ifty Africans countries last month signed one of the three proposed legal instruments which are set to open the borders to make the continent the largest trading bloc in the world.
Leaders from 44 of 55 African Union member states signed into existence the Continental Free Trade area (AfCFTA) agreement, which makes it, when it comes into effect, the second-biggest bloc after WTO in international trade. President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, who is has been hailed as the champion of the free trade deal across the continent, was the first to sign on behalf of his country, followed by President Paul Kagame, the current chair of the African Union.
Afterwards, 43 signed the Kigali Declaration – meant to boost trade between African countries and to encourage local beneficiation and manufacturing – and 27 agreed to ease mobility of people across the continent by signing the protocol on movement of people across Africa.
Some countries signed all the three legal instruments at once but 50 countries signed at least one of the three documents which, according to Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chair of the African Union Commission, was way “beyond expectations”.
Right before the signing of these instruments, sources privy to the proceedings say that not more than 27 countries would sign the deal. But, in the middle of exercise, Mahamat picked up the microphone and said “more than forty countries had agreed to sign” – to much applause from the audience.
According to Mahamat, the agreement goes beyond opening borders for business but gives Africans a sense of belonging. “It is important that Africans stop being foreigners on their own continent while others freely circulate there.”
The agreement must now must be ratified by 22-member states by January 2019 to come into effect. While speaking at the opening ceremony of the 10th Extraordinary Summit of African Union, President Kagame noted that the signing of these agreements, expresses unity in moving the continent forward.
“The promise of free trade and free movement is prosperity for all Africans, because we are prioritising the production of value-added goods and services that are “Made in Africa” Kagame said.
Trade pundits note that the deal will certainly open up wider market from region producers and manufacturers hence creating competitiveness – which they see as a means to “growth of Africa, growth of our countries and unity in Africa.”
At least 11 countries including one of Africa’s biggest economies Nigeria, and South Africa, as well as Burundi, Lesotho, Namibia, Eritrea, Benin, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau abstained from the free trade area agreement. South Africa however signed the Kigali Declaration for the launch of the AfCFTA.
Sources intimate that those which abstained are expected to sign by July, when the next continental meeting convenes.
While consolidating African trade is just the solution the continent needs to begin playing at par with other global trading blocs, it is worth noting that the AfCFTA will consolidate a market of 1.2 billion people and a GDP of $2.5 trillion, which is still eight times smaller than the US GDP of $19.3 trillion and China’s $14.2 trillion. The agreement could be the start of a process to even these figures out to transform Africa into an important player in global trade.