By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
Four hundred years after the first Africans were kidnapped and brought to the United States and 135 years after the infamous Berlin Conference divided Africa into 55 separate countries, heads of state from the continent are on the verge of a historic free trade agreement.
The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is an agreement between African Union (AU) member states with a stated goal of creating a single market followed by free movement and a single currency. It was first presented and signed at the AU Summit in Kigali, Rwanda in March 2018.
The accord seeks to progressively eliminate tariffs on intra-African trade, which prior to the agreement stood at an average of 6.1 percent across the continent, as well as removing other trade barriers.
While the agreement does not formally establish an African Continental Free Trade Area, it will still function as an umbrella under which protocols and annexes will be added, according to Ventures Africa.
Once all documents are concluded and ratified, the Free Trade Area will formally exist.
Following the establishment of the AfCFTA in March 2018, Zambia was one of the African countries that didn’t sign the agreement despite signing its declaration. However, this week Zambia became the latest country to sign the agreement when Zambia’s President Edgar Chagwa Lungu signed the agreement in the presence of His Excellency Albert M. Muchanga, the African Union Commissioner for Trade and Industry, who then counter-signed on behalf of the African Union.
According to Ventures Africa, Zambia is prepared to begin the necessary processes to uphold the agreement and AfCFTA will be sent to Zambia’s institutional mechanism for ratification.
Speaking during a news conference at the 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the AU in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, Muchanga, said he expected AfCFTA to formally launch operations in July of this year during another AU summit to be held in Niamey, capital of Niger.
“We have 12 African countries that have deposited the instrument of ratification at the AU. Before the end of the summit, we expect two more countries to ratify the agreement,” Muchanga said, according to The New Times of Rwanda.
“By March 21, 2019, the first anniversary of the launch of AfCFTA, we expect we will fill the [minimum] quota of 21-member states needed for the free trade agreement to come into force,” Muchanga continued. “With the expected start of operations of AfCFTA in July, the AU expects member states to start to liberalize trade relations with each other, reduce trade tariff among African countries and come up with mechanism to monitor the application of non-tariff barriers by some member states.”
Egypt’s President Abdelfattah Elsisi said the agreement should be expedited. “We need to strengthen our cooperation and scale up our efforts in order to expedite the AfCFTA agreement. We also need to strive that this economic agreement reaches tangible results for our people,” Elsisi said.
The AfCFTA agreement previously received signatures from 44 out of the 55 members of the African Union at a summit in Rwanda.
Her Excellency, Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao, the African Union Ambassador to the United States, appeared last month at the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s Mid-Winter Training Conference in Florida where she said African leaders were on the verge of a free trade agreement.
She said Africa was poised to become the world’s largest free trade area with the 55 countries merging into a single market of 1.2 billion people with a combined Gross Domestic Product of $2.5 trillion.
“African leaders are saying with one voice, one mind, and one heart that we are one continent,” H.E. Dr. Chihombori-Quao said.