Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, (New Ziana) – African countries must this year ensure finalisation of outstanding issues on implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to ensure the continent moves towards promoting trade in its own products and move away from being the dumping ground for international goods, the new African Union (AU) chairman said on Sunday.
The AfCFTA agreement came into force mid-last year, becoming the world’s largest free trade pact following its ratification by 24 member states.
The pact seeks to, among other things, create a single market for goods and services, free movement of people and eventually a Customs Union with a common tariff for the continental grouping, AU.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa estimates that the AfCFTA has potential to boost intra-Africa trade by 53 percent by eliminating import duties and non-tariff barriers.
It is expected to create an African market of over 1.2 billion people with a Gross Domestic Product of $2.5 trillion.
Only 22 signatories were required to operationalise the AfCFTA but by mid last year, 25 member states had ratified the agreement.
Ghana has offered to host the headquarters of the AfCTA.
New AU chairman, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa told the on-going 33rd African Heads of State and Government Summit that he would prioritise operationalising the trade agreement.
“We will work for the finalisation of the outstanding issue with regards to the AfCFTA,” he said, taking over the continental body’s reigns from Egyptian leader, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
He said Africa should level the playing field for its own businesses and products as well as safeguard its market from becoming a “conduit for products with minimal African value addition to enter and penetrate our local markets under the guise of continental integration.”
“There must be a reasonable standard set for what constitutes a product that is proudly made in Africa,” Ramaphosa said to applause.
“The era of colonialism and imperialism under which Africa is a pit stop in the global assembly line has passed.”
AU Commission chairperson Faki Mahamat said it was imperative that the AfCFTA becomes a reality to achieve the vision of the continent’s founding fathers.
At least 33 countries of the 55 AU member states had to date ratified the trade protocol, with only four having signed it.
“We have to promote free movement of persons and goods and the protocol has been signed by 33 members states and ratified only by four members states. I want to appeal to member states that have not done so to do so urgently,” he said.
Faki also urged more African governments, excluding the 18 that have done so, to ratify the air transport agreement, which is key in facilitating movement of people and goods.
Development of key infrastructure including road and rail to aid movement of goods was cited as key to the success of AfCFTA.
Zimbabwe, represented by President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the on-going AU Summit which ends on Monday, has ratified the AfCFTA agreement.