African leaders launch free-trade zone

African leaders officially launched the operational phase of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement in Niger.

The continental free-trade zone that, if successful, would unite 1.3 billion people, create a $3.4 trillion economic bloc, and usher in a new era of development.

The launch occurred at the 12th Extraordinary Summit of the African Union (AU) Heads of State and Government on the 7th of July, 2019.

After four years of talks, an agreement to form a 55-nation trade bloc was reached in March, paving the way for Sunday’s African Union summit in Niger where Ghana was announced as the host of the trade zone’s future headquarters and discussions were held on how exactly the bloc will operate.

“The free trade area plays a big role in walking out of the 84,000-km boundaries that we inherited from our colonial past, which means it ensures the full African integration instead of eliminating the boundaries,” noted Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou.

It is hoped the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) – the largest since the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1994 – will help unlock Africa’s long-stymied economic potential by boosting intra-regional trade, strengthening supply chains, and spreading expertise.

Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, said, “we are now walking on the right track towards a bright future. The launch of the free trade area opens a new window for development and progress instead of economic stagnation and conflicts.”

On Sunday, Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria and Benin joined the list of signatories of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement signed on March 21 last year in Kigali, Rwanda.

Eritrea is the only member of the African Union that has not signed the historic accord.

It came into force on May 30, after the deposit of the required minimum 22 instruments of ratification by AU member states to the AU Commission.

The pact calls for a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investment, paving the way for faster establishment of a customs union.

Once fully operational, the free trade accord is projected to boost the level of intra-Africa trade by more than 52 percent by the year 2022, according to the UN Economic Commission for Africa.