On March 21 2018, 44 African countries signed the African Union’s continental free trade agreement (Acfta). The AU aims to use the agreement as a conduit for the creation of a single market and customs union on the continent, akin to the trade blocs established by the EU. The first step, however, will be to remove tariff barriers on 90% of goods traded between Acfta signatories. The creation of Acfta is significant because it aims to harmonise rules between overlapping regional economic communities that emerged in the 1980s. It is also a positive development because it will likely reverse the trend of increased protectionism that swept across commodity exporting markets after the oil price crash of 2014. Trade across borders in Africa has presented challenges for decades, partly because patterns of trade reflect those established during colonial periods, namely to facilitate the export of commodities to Europe. For example, the UN conference on trade and development (Unctad) estimat...

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