Harare (New Ziana) – Trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), a flagship project of the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063, officially began on Friday, a feat described by officials as a historic move towards the accelerated integration and development of the continent.
The AfCFTA, the world’s largest free trade pact, creates a single market of over 1.2 billion people for the 55 African countries with a combined Gross Domestic Product of over $3.4 trillion.
On top of creating a single continental market for goods and services, AfCFTA also envisages the free movement of people and investments, thus paving way for accelerating the establishment of the African Customs Union.
Its implementation is expected to be a key engine of economic growth, industrialisation and sustainable development in Africa.
Speaking during the virtual launch ceremony, AfCFTA secretary general Wamkele Mene said the free trade pact took Africa a step closer towards the vision of an integrated continent.
“This African Continental Free Trade Area should not just be a trade agreement, it should actually be an instrument for Africa’s development,” he said.
“We today as Africans are witnessing the beginning of a new chapter in terms of trade and investment relations on the African continent and I have to say as an African I am truly proud today because out of 55 countries, 54 have signed this agreement, 33 countries have ratified the agreement while over 40 countries have submitted their offers which signals that Africa is ready to start trading today (Friday) on the basis of new rules and new preferences that will ensure that the African market is integrated.”
Mene said projections indicated that by the year 2025, if fully implemented, the AfCFTA could potentially lift 100 million Africans out of poverty, while also closing gender disparities within the continent.
“The opportunity for small medium enterprises across the African continent to access new markets is presented by the African Continental Free Trade Area and we are working very closely with our technical partners to develop digital technology platforms that will enable connectivity of small and medium enterprises, that will enable connectivity of young Africans in trade so that this agreement does not only benefit the big corporations on the African continent but that it should benefit also women in trade and young Africans,” he said.
“We have to take as Africans active steps to overcome the smallness of our national economies, to overcome the lack of economies of scale and we have to take active steps to make sure that we place Africa on a path to accelerated industrial development so that by the year 2035 we are able to double intra-Africa trade in value added goods.”
Mene added: “We have to take active steps to dismantle the colonial economic model that we inherited and that we sustained over the last 50 years.”
Zimbabwe is among the countries that have ratified the AfCFTA agreement.