Africa’s journey to market integration has begun in earnest with the commencement of trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) on 1 January, Secretary General Wamkele Mene, said today.
Speaking during a virtual press conference, Mr. Mene dismissed talks that the AfCFTA arrangement was being rushed, saying there’s no trade agreement where all members were ready at the same time.
Countries like Ghana,Egypt and South Africa were in fact prepared with the required customs infrastructure to ensure commercially meaningful trading started, he said, adding Ghana had on 4 January officially recognized the first consignment of goods to be exported under the AfCFTA, an event other countries would be replicating soon to mark the milestone.
“The most important point that I want to emphasize is that Africa is now trading under new rules, new preferences, because we want to build a single integrated market on the African continent.It may take some time before each of us sees the direct benefit. We are not going to be deterred by our critics who say they don’t see evidence that trading has actually started,” Mr. Mene said.
According to him, market integration is not an event but aprocess that takes time, pointing out that it took the European Union almost 60 years to achieve its current depth of integration.
“I have never heard of a trade agreement where all countries were ready on Day One; I don’t know it. Africa’s market integration would take some time but you have to start somewhere,” he said.
The continental trade deal was earlier scheduled to go start officially on 1 July last year but was postponed by six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The AfCFTA provides the opportunity for Africa to create the world’s largest free trade area, with the potential to unite more than 1.2 billion people, in a $2.5 trillion economic bloc and usher in a new era of development. It also has the potential to generate a range of benefits through supporting trade creation, structural transformation, productive employment and poverty reduction.
Only Eritrea out of the continent’s 55 countries is yet to sign the agreement which has already been ratified by 34 member states.Through its African Trade Policy Centre (ATPC), the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) has been working with the African Union Commission (AUC) and member states to deepen Africa’s trade integration and effectively implement the agreement through policy advocacy and national strategy development. The ECA also works with the International Trade Centre (ITC), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and independent trade experts with the financial support of the European Union to support the implementation of the AfCFTA across the continent.