The AfCFTA will impact national economies, development, employment and gender, with implications for the working conditions of the populace. The participation of trade unions in the AFCFTA processes is limited. Trade unions are advocating to be involved in the ongoing AfCFTA negotiations, particularly at the country-level, to ensure the promotion of decent work and the strengthening of workers’ social and economic rights. That is why the Organisation of Trade Unions of Central Africa (OUSTAC), supported by the African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa), is committed to building the capacity of affiliates to become more involved in their governments AfCFTA negotiations and implementation.

OSTAC’s position paper on the AfCFTA draws on research and trade union knowledge. It recommends actions to maximise the benefits of the AfCFTA within the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) while protecting the interests of workers.


The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is the trade instrument ratified by the Member States of the African Union and which is currently under negotiation. It is given effect through nine protocols that set out the rules, terms, and procedures for each area of the Agreement. The AfCFTA aims to support a single African market for goods and services, enable the free movement of people, mobilise investment and establish a Continental Customs Union.

However, the agreement lacks labour provisions, meaning workers are at further risk of job loss and exploitation. There are also doubts about the ability of the AfCFTA to integrate and transform economies because of its exclusionary adoption process, in which only member states were involved in the negotiations, and the failure to learn lessons from past disappointing experiences with trade liberalisation, particularly the Washington Consensus episodes of full liberalisation, which led to negative social impacts, including job losses and increased poverty. The expected positive industrial transformation and optimal resource allocation within AfCFTA economies are not evident.

Objective of the union position paper

To strengthen the capacity of trade unions in the Central African sub-region to effectively engage with and influence the implementation of the AfCFTA for the benefit of workers. The position paper focuses on three areas in examining the impact of the AfCFTA in the CEMAC and Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS): economic activities, regional economic and social policies and the labour market.

Economic Commission for Central African States (ECCAS)

Consisting of 11 French, Portuguese and Spanish-speaking Member Countries, the ECCAS kicked off in 1985 but was inactive for many years. It aspires to integrate Central Africa. Member countries include Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe and Rwanda. ECCAS has a population of about 121 million people. The REC’S five key strategic priorities:

  1. peace and security
  2. common market
  3. environment and natural resources
  4. spatial planning and infrastructure
  5. gender and human development.

Trade and integration

Integration in the ECCAS region is weak, according to the Index of Regional Integration in Africa (IIRA). ECCAS scores below the average of other RECs on five of IIRA’s key dimensions.  In particular, the IIRA raises red flags on production, trade and infrastructure integration. It is important to note the low level of productive complementarity within ECCAS when considering the IIRA ranking. Member countries are heavily dependent on commodity exports. ECCAS scores better on the free movement of persons and macroeconomic integration, largely due to the economic convergence of the CEMAC member countries that are also members of ECCAS.

Source: Index of Regional Integration in Africa (IIRA)

Implications of the AfCFTA in ECCAS

Economic activities

The AfCFTA can have positive and negative effects, trade creation and trade diversion effect, respectively.

Trade creation refers to creating new trade that would not exist without economic integration. Trade diversion occurs when trade patterns shift from more efficient producers outside an group to less efficient producers within a group due to the formation of an FTA or customs union.

ECCA’s low IIRA scores, particularly for production and infrastructure integration dimensions, will have implications for AfCFTA’s implementation unless the identified challenges are addressed, for example, enhancing value addition and regional value chains.

Economic development policy

A common economic policy for ECCAS member countries would help the REC to benefit from the AfCFTA through enhanced production and infrastructure integration.

The labour market

Empirical literature shows that trade liberalisation can lead to “sweatshops” and a “race to the bottom”, concerning wages, labour standards and environmental impact. The AfCFTA does not include social clauses. But social standards can potentially promote greater labour productivity. OSTAC calls for a Protocol on social clauses and the involvement of unions in drafting and implementing such a clause.

OSTAC recommendations

A continental free trade agreement requires a continental free trade union movement on the continent.

The OSTAC offers seven recommendations to maximise the benefits of AfCFTA while safeguarding the interests of workers.

Recommendations to ECCAS/CEMAC

  1. Involve OSTAC in all levels of ECCAS and CEMAC structures responsible for implementing the AfCFTA: build the capacity of all actors to engage with the AfCFTA meaningfully and to popularise the AfCFTA.
  2. Strengthen the mechanisms for collecting taxes from multinational corporations and companies operating in ECCAS and CEMAC countries. This will enhance financial resources and contribute to the development of the sub-region.
  3. Ensure effective monitoring and regulation of mining activities in ECCAS and CEMAC countries to promote sound economic governance and decent jobs.
  4. Encourage ECCAS and CEMAC countries to ratify and implement the protocol on the free movement of goods and people to aid the AfCFTA.
  5. Foster productive integration within ECCAS to diversify the economy. Coordinate data on value chain development to support the realisation of Millennium Development Goal 8, which focuses on decent work and full employment.
  6. Promote workforce retraining and sectoral adaptation.
  7. Advocate for the adoption of a protocol on International Labour Standards (ILS) to ensure social protection, fair wages, freedom of association, and collective bargaining are considered in the strategic priorities of the AfCFTA processes in sub-regional countries.

Recommendations to OSTAC member unions

  1. Identify union demands on the AfCFTA and build solidarity for advocacy and campaigning.
  2. Share the trade union position papers and statements on the AfCFTA with the representatives of the ECCAS and the CEMAC to ensure the demands of trade unions are considered.
  3. Identify partners at all levels for support, including research, advocacy, communication and training.

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