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Building capacity to help Africa trade better
tralac Newsletter • Issue 31 • July 2021

Welcome to the tralac newsletter

This year’s tralac Annual Conference is, for the second year, a virtual event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At this year’s conference we will consider some lessons from COVID-19. In the first instance, this is a health crisis. A third wave of COVID-19 is currently spreading across Africa, faster and with more devastating effect than the previous two waves. COVID-19 is a global pandemic and Africa is most vulnerable. But COVID-19 is much more than a health crisis. It is a development crisis. Extensive economic and social disruption require structural transformation and new governance solutions. Building differently and diversifying for resilience to future shocks, including the climate crisis, is required. The immediate effects and longer-term implications of COVID-19 will inform our discussion at this year’s conference.

Africa’s healthcare sector

Pre-existing challenges in Africa’s fragile healthcare sector, including the infrastructure deficit, lack of healthcare professionals (compounded by the medical brain drain) and limited access to medical supplies have been brutally exposed by the pandemic. We’re monitoring the developments in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as member states consider the proposed waiver in respect of intellectual property rights to permit the general manufacture of vaccines for the treatment of COVID-19, for a specific period. Development of new productive capacity is complex and will take time. Immediate responses, such as vaccine donations by developed countries, some of which ordered more than national requirements, are important for Africa. The role of civil society and development partners to support the healthcare sector, including with the management of the roll-out of vaccination programmes, is essential. Collective responses are required. COVID-19 transcends national borders – and impacts us all.

Development of Africa’s healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors is on the agenda of the African Union (AU). Healthcare is also an important trade in services sector for Africa. We’ll discuss how healthcare fits into Agenda 2063, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and examine aspects of Africa’s medical brain drain.

Trade and gender

We are launching a study ‘Trade and Gender in Africa’s Trade Agreements’. As we prepare to negotiate the AfCFTA Protocol on Women, Youth and SMEs, this study presents a comprehensive review of all gender-related provisions in Africa’s trade agreements, including the legal instruments of the AfCFTA that have been concluded. What are the implications for the AfCFTA Protocol on Women, Youth and SMEs?

In this session we will also hear from tralac alumni, and participants in tralac’s SheGovernsTrade (SGT) Development Programme. Women remain under-represented in policy making processes and institutions, and tralac’s SGT programme focuses not only on development of technical trade skills, but supports professional skills development, change management skills and mentoring.

Women entrepreneurs face many challenges as traders – some of which cannot be addressed by a free trade agreement. Complementary initiatives are required. Empowering Africa’s women traders informs important streams of work at tralac. We will share details of our collaboration with the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and United Parcel Service (UPS) to support Women Traders in the AfCFTA. This support includes the eTradeHubs platform which provides information for traders, training on technical trade issues and entrepreneurship, including topics such as social media marketing and digital trade.

Update on the AfCFTA

Taking stock of the AfCFTA has, in recent years, been a standing item on tralac’s Annual Conference agenda. This is again the case.

For trade in goods to take place under this free trade area, negotiated tariff concessions and preferential rules of origin are required. While notable progress has been made in the rules of origin negotiations, we are not there yet. And once all offers of tariff concessions, that meet the agreed modalities, have been made, the negotiations process will start in earnest. An ‘interim arrangement’ to permit trade under the schedules of tariff offers, made by end of June 2021, may be agreed, but negotiated outcomes are essential for the AfCFTA.

Trade in services negotiations are also still underway – with a focus on commitments in the 5 priority services sectors (financial, transport, communication, tourism and business services). Healthcare services will be included along with other services later. Work on frameworks for regulatory cooperation is also progressing. Negotiations on investment and intellectual property rights have begun. Competition policy (also on the phase 2 agenda) is important because anti-competitive practices that transcend national borders can undermine the benefits of the AfCFTA. Protocols on digital trade (e-commerce) and women, youth and SMEs are also to be negotiated. These are indispensable for the AfCFTA to support Africa’s inclusive development. And then the implementation agenda has to be tackled.

The AfCFTA is not only about boosting intra-Africa trade, but also holds dynamic benefits: larger, integrated markets; improved customs and border management; and improvements in trade governance more generally are perhaps even more important now to, for example, attract investment to support the development and diversification of Africa’s productive capacity and improving competitiveness. COVID-19 makes the successful completion of the negotiations and the effective implementation of the AfCFTA that much more important now.

Please join us for the 2021 tralac Annual Conference. Registration details are available below.

The tralac team.

tralac Annual Conference 2021

COVID-19 has changed Africa and the world. How should we respond?

tralac’s 2021 Annual Conference will be held virtually on 22 – 23 July with two sessions per day (10:00 – 11:30 and 15:00 – 16:30 GMT+2). The Conference will take place via Zoom which requires registration prior to the event. Please click on the links below to register:


Day 1, 22 July 2021

Opening session with keynote speakers

Trade and gender

Day 2, 23 July 2021

Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic for Africa’s healthcare sector

Update on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)


tralac Study

Gender Provisions in African Trade Agreements: An Assessment of the Commitments for Reconciling Women’s Empowerment and Global Trade

Since the early stage of trade integration within the African continent, women’s interests have been on the agenda, at least that is what the agreements reveal. Indeed, including specific provisions on gender is a well-established practice in the African trade and integration agreements, the first being adopted in 1983 in the treaty establishing the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). Since then, most integration agreements contain gender provisions, with some having an entire chapter devoted to women. In addition, several trade agreements between African states and the European Union (EU) or the United Kingdom (UK) also include provisions to address the specific needs of women. More recently, four provisions explicitly addressing gender issues or supporting women’s empowerment have been negotiated within the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) normative framework. In fact, gender equality is at the core of the AfCFTA’s objectives, reinforcing the premise that global trade needs the full participation of women to be successful.

Empirical research based on 62 African trade agreements reveals 54 gender-related provisions in 20 different trade agreements concluded by at least one African state. The content of these provisions ranges from a mere mention of gender issues in areas of cooperation to mandatory measures to support women’s empowerment, with accountability mechanisms to ensure their full implementation. Therefore, some provisions may better protect women’s interests and ensure that they are not left behind in the trade liberalisation process.

This working paper examines the extent to which African states are committed to supporting women’s empowerment in trade agreements. Five levels of commitment are identified based on the location, the degree of precision, and the bindingness of the gender-related provisions. As a result, about a third of the gender provisions reviewed indicate a relatively high degree of commitment to supporting women’s empowerment through trade liberalisation, and more often, state parties limit their commitment to cooperation without enforceability. The working paper also reveals that regional economic community’s (RECs) agreements are more gender-responsive than agreements concluded with countries outside the African continent and highlight the essential components a gender-related provision must feature to be effective.

Briefing papers


The Lessons of COVID-19

Covid accelerates Africa’s medical brain drain

Investment facilitation and the AfCFTA Protocol on Investment

Financial Flows and the Business Environment in Southern Africa

New Trade Brief

Resilience in African Economies: What Governments could do and the AfCFTA could contribute

Afreximbank recently published a paper in the Bank’s Policy Journal under the title of Building a Better Future of Work for Resilience and Growth in Post-COVID-19 Africa. It makes an important contribution to an urgent and timely debate. The authors note that the COVID-19 pandemic “has caused an unprecedented disruption in the global economy, which is already having a tremendous impact on welfare and livelihoods in Africa, resulting in Africa’s first recession in 25 years”. They offer ideas about policies that African Governments should now adopt.

In this trade brief we mention some of the authors’ most important arguments and their conclusions. Since this particular edition of the Bank’s Policy Journal was published in December 2020, certain subsequent developments (most of an adverse kind) need to be referred to. In the course of 2020, the estimates from the IMF, the World Bank and other sources pointed to an economic recovery in 2021 for most African nations. Some of those forecasts now look too optimistic and need to be adjusted.


Intra-Africa trade update 2020

Regional Resources

African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)


Start of trading under the AfCFTA African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement began on 1 January 2021. As at July 2021, 37 countries have both signed and deposited their instruments of AfCFTA ratification with the AUC Chairperson. Of the 55 AU member states, only Eritrea has yet to join.


More resources


tralac maintains a collection of regional and national trade-related resources including copies of the texts and annexes of regional and bilateral trade agreements, copies of various regional protocols, memoranda of understanding and tariff offers, and copies of national legislation and trade-related policy documents.


Please note: Free registration is required to download resources.

Latest AGOA news

Key trade stats for AGOA beneficiaries for the year to end May 2020 / 2021

2020 to May
2021 to May
% Change
Aggregate exports to US: $ 7.42 billion $ 10.93 billion + 47%
- - (Share) of AGOA exports: $ 1,53 billion $ 2,28 million + 49%
Total US import duties on combined imports from AGOA beneficiaries: $ 18.3 million $ 21.9 million +19%
Top 5 Exporters (AGOA trade only) 2020 YTD May exports to US 2021 YTD May exports to US Change 2020/21
South Africa 607 1,010 66%
Nigeria 217 417 92%
Kenya 194 198 -8%
Angola 3.5 140 3,875%
Lesotho 95 107 13%
All AGOA countries $1,533m $2,280m +49%

US imports entering under AGOA preference increased by almost 50% in the year to end May 2021, compared to the equivalent period in 2020. Of the leading ‘AGOA exporters’, South Africa’s year-on-year AGOA trade grew by 66% (+26% yoy to April), cementing its position as the leading exporter of AGOA-eligible goods.

The key driver for this performance is strong export growth in motor vehicles (+122% yoy, $378m) and articles of jewellery (+497% yoy, $160m), the two leading exports from South Africa that utilise AGOA preferences. Meanwhile, exports in ferroalloys under AGOA declined by 5% to $121m in the period to end May (whilst still remaining the third largest export). Kenya, the third largest exporter of AGOA goods saw a 8% decline due to lower apparel exports. Both Nigeria and Angola have significantly increased their AGOA exports due to higher oil exports to the US.

National AGOA Strategies

During the first part of 2021 a number of new or updated National AGOA Strategies have been published. These – and previous strategies from other AGOA beneficiaries - are available on in the AGOA Strategies section. The most recent publications involve Namibia’s (new) and Botswana’s (updated) AGOA Strategies, which were facilitated through the support of the USAID TradeHub.
Various AGOA-related infographic styled brochures have been updated and are available to download from, with others to follow shortly. See for example Namibia, Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria, as well as the textiles and apparel-specific sector document.

2021 Trade Policy Agenda and 2020 Annual Report

During March 2021, the USTR under the Biden Administration launched its 2021 trade policy agenda and 2020 annual report (download it here). This 308-page document includes sets out key priorities, including ‘the development and reinforcement of resilient manufacturing supply chains, especially those made up of small businesses, to ensure that the United States is better prepared to confront future public health crises’. Covid-19 and economic recovery from its impacts are central themes. Another priority involves trade policies to address opportunities and challenges posed by the digital economy, and to prepare the US for any potential future disruptions to the global trading system. The opening of markets and reduction of trade barriers faced by US exporters are fundamental objectives, since “export-oriented producers, manufacturers, and businesses enjoy greater than average productivity and wages”.
The document also provides and overview of current trade negotiations, concluded negotiations, and existing trade agreements already in place.
Other matters addressed by the report include the US’ trade enforcement activities, WTO matters, trade policy development and a range of other trade related activities (digital trade, intellectual property, trade and labour, trade capacity building – including in Africa – and so forth).

AGOA Business Connector

The AGOA Business Connector is an online facility on to help enable trade and business connections between producers, exporters, importers, sourcing agents, trade-related service suppliers including trade finance, logistics and related services, support organisations (such as business chambers and exporter associations and others), both from within sub-Saharan African AGOA beneficiary countries and the United States. Registered users are also able to list their businesses or professional trade-related service on the platform, and to communicate with other listings through a messaging facility.

> Download the AGOA Business Connector Brochure at this link

Download: AGOA guides and info-graphics

tralac has produced a number of info-graphic type brochures (see section on / Exporter Toolkit) covering a range of AGOA-related topics, including on AGOA’s legal provisions with regard to eligibility and annual/out of cycle reviews, rules of origin, AGOA FAQs, sector-focused brochures (textiles and clothing, agriculture), as well as national AGOA brochures relating to Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania
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