WIPO Director General Opens Roundtable Discussion on IP and the African Continental Free Trade Area

February 10, 2020

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry opened a Roundtable Discussion on IP and the African Continental Free Trade Area emphasizing the importance of intellectual property in securing the competitive advantage from innovation.

Mr. Gurry welcomed participants to WIPO on February 10, 2020, for a three-day roundtable discussion “Contributing to a Balanced and Effective Intellectual Property (IP) System in the Implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA),” co-organized with the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) and the Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle (OAPI). 

“I'm delighted that trade is at the heart of your discussions, as well as the role that intellectual property will play,” he said in an opening address. “I think this is a very timely occasion to see how the free trade agreement within Africa to encourage intra-African trade can serve the interests of Africa.”

ARIPO Director General Fernando dos Santos and OAPI Director General Denis L. Bohoussou each welcomed participants alongside Mr. Gurry.

Photo of WIPO Director General Opening Roundtable Discussion on IP and the African Continental Free Trade Area
WIPO Director General Francis Gurry (center) speaks to participants alongside ARIPO Director General Fernando dos Santos (left) and OAPI Director General Denis L. Bohoussou (right). (Photo: WIPO/Berrod)

The agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area entered into force on May 30, 2019. Its main objective is to create a single African continental market for goods and services, with free movement of businesspersons and investments, eventually paving the way to a common customs union.

Covering a population of over 1.2 billion, with a combined GDP of over USD$3.4 trillion, the AfCFTA seems poised to be one of the world’s largest free trade areas. Estimates from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa indicate that AfCFTA holds the potential of boosting intra- African trade by 52.3%.  Trading under the agreement will begin in July 2020, but Phase II of the negotiations, which cover IP rights, investment and competition policy are scheduled to begin in March 2020. 

The draft protocol on IP encourages cooperation in all fields of IP and recognizes the role of regional IP regulatory bodies such as ARIPO and OAPI. It proposes to build on the existing frameworks whilst adhering to obligations under international IP treaties.

Mr. Gurry said that IP is critical to competitiveness and human development.

“Intellectual property is the means of securing the competitive advantage that arises from particular innovations, from technology, and it is the means by which reputation is established in markets across continents, within countries, across continents and internationally. And so it does have an extremely important role,” said Mr. Gurry.

The objective of the roundtable discussion is to provide an opportunity for participants to exchange views on the importance of protecting and exploiting IP assets in order to enhance competitiveness as well as regional and global market access, more so, in light of the entry into force of the AfCFTA agreement.

Mr. Gurry also signed memoranda of understanding with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). By these agreements, the parties commit to intensify cooperation in their efforts towards the protection and effective use of IP in the frameworks of their respective mandates and in a manner that permits their member states to reap the benefits of effective and appropriate use of IP for development.