African Integration Day, 2020 July 7
African countries are slowly increasing their economic exchange, but trade with countries outside the continent is still dominant. Whereas in 1995 intra-African exports accounted for only 10% of total African exports, this share rose to 17% in 2017. By comparison, interregional exports in Europe are worth 69% of total exports. These numbers show the enormous potential of a continent’s economic integration.
In Africa, initiatives to strengthen intra-regional trade have existed since the 1970s. The most ambitious project to date is the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) of 54 member states of the African Union (A.U.). The free trade area aims to create the African domestic market, promote intra-African trade, expand Africa’s regional and continental integration. A particular focus is on to develop further the industrial and manufacturing sector of the African economy. The continental market comprises 1.3 billion people and a gross domestic product of currently 3.4 trillion U.S. dollars.
Currently, 29 African states have ratified the AfCFTA Agreement, and the agreement should come into force on July 1, 2020. Due to the Corona Pandemic, however, this ambitious start date had been postponed. Protectionist tendencies even intensified in the reaction to the crisis. Some countries impose export restrictions on medical equipment, pharmaceuticals and personal protective equipment and others impose restrictions on food exports on rising concerns over food security. Recent developments show how difficult it is to make the fascinating idea of a continental free trade area a reality.
The success of the African Continental Free Trade Area depends on many factors. Of particular importance is the dismantling of non-tariff trade barriers. Due to different technical regulations and conformity assessment requirements, trade is often slow and cumbersome. It is necessary to harmonise regulations and to build up and expand technically competent and independent facilities for testing, inspection and certification. The competences of the less developed countries, in particular, must be strengthened.
In this context, it is gratifying that the National Institutes for Metrology, Standardization and Accreditation have officially joined forces to form the Pan-African Quality Infrastructure (PAQI). In August 2013, with the support of the Director for Trade and Industry, African Union Commission, the Intra-Africa Metrology System (AFRIMETS), the African Electro-Technical Standardisation Commission (AFSEC) and the African Organisation for Standardisation (ARSO) as well as the African Accreditation Cooperation (AFRAC) had signed a Memorandum of Understanding.
PAQI’s contribution to the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area follows the motto “One market – one standard”. Within the framework of an African Quality Policy (AQP), the PAQI member organisations implement the objectives previously defined in the treaty establishing the African Economic Community (AEC) in the year 1991:
- “Adopt a common policy on standardisation and quality assurance of goods and services among the Member States;
- Undertake such other related activities in standardisation and measurement systems that are likely to promote trade, economic development and integration within the Community;
- Strengthen African national, regional and continental organisations operating in this field.” 
The following video illustrates the importance of quality and metrology for competitiveness and quality of life in Africa:
The challenges of Quality Infrastructure in Africa are multiple. Especially in the less developed countries, the necessary institutions for metrology, standardisation and accreditation, and market surveillance and consumer protection often have to be created first. At the same time, it is precisely the more developed economies that must face the challenges of new technologies and globalised competition. Also, all institutions are called upon to make the quality infrastructure usable for comprehensive sustainable development beyond trade issues.
The Pan African Quality Infrastructure is part of the continental integration process. At the same time, the Quality Infrastructure institutions demonstrated how to implement regional cooperation in a technically competent manner and partnership. PAQI is thus an example of a promising institutional arrangement and an asset for successful African integration.
 United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Assessing Regional Integration in Africa IX: Next steps for the African Continental Free Trade Area, Addis Ababa: United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, 2019
 The coronavirus delays Africa’s free trade area, but experts say it’s vital to recovery, published May 26 2020
 Development of the African Quality Policy (AQP) by Dan Kithome