Because of the continent’s vast distances, poor road and freight connections and cumbersome border procedures, trade between African countries lags behind most other regions and regional blocs in the world. Although trade within the continent has grown since the turn of the millennium, Africa beats only South America’s Mercosur when it comes to intraregional trade. AfCFTA’s backers say it will move Africa closer to Asean’s level so that trade can flourish across the continent.

If AfCFTA boosts trade between African economies, it will do so at the value-added level for products such as tomato paste, petroleum products, plastics and rebar. To help African products compete with cheap imports from China and elsewhere, the free trade agreement will be accompanied by local content regulations. Foreign direct investment in Africa is the lowest in the world, and the continent receives less than a tenth of the FDI that goes to Asia.