The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has seven protocols, namely; competition, trade in goods, trade in services, dispute settlement, investment, intellectual property, and e-commerce.
Protocols on Competition address issues relating to excessive market power abuse and restrictive business practices.
The objective of the AfCFTA is continental integration. As integration becomes a reality, so will the effects of anti-competitive practices. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) warns against competition policies that are often developed in the interest of multinational companies (MNCs), leading to the undermining of public enterprises and possibly reducing the right of governments to develop regulatory policies. It is therefore critical for trade unions to demand a seat at the Protocol on Competition negotiation table.
What do unions need to look out for, deliberate and demand?
Competition policies intend to address issues of excessive market power. But in the past, competition policies have often been used to promote the interest of large MNCs. Trade unions should guard against this trend in the AfCFTA by asking the following questions and considering them at the union level:
- What is going to be accepted as anti-competitive behaviour in the AfCFTA? Shouldn’t it be the restriction of large, powerful and dominant MNCs rather than that of local and emerging businesses?
- Do the proposed competition provisions set rules for mergers and acquisitions that consider development concerns and other domestic priorities, including workers’ interests?
- Do the proposed competition provisions promote the emergence of local businesses that could contribute positively to economic development?
- Could the proposed competition policy undermine public enterprises or monopolies?
- Do the proposed competition provisions reduce the freedom of governments to set regulatory policies that, for example, protect the environment, restrict foreign ownership in specific sectors, or promote local content?
- Will the AfCFTA include a consumer protection policy and what is the position on this?
- Could the proposed competition policy include the principle of non-discrimination? Could that prevent countries from ensuring the protection of domestic companies from the actions of large MNCs and clash with attempts by governments to protect certain activities from the market competition?