The African continent on Friday started trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement.
The AfCFTA, which was launched in March 2018 in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, has so far garnered 54 AU member signatories, offering new hope and continental exhilaration in terms of boosting intra-African trade, and eventually facilitating Africa’s development and industrialization. Eritrea is the only non-signatory country.
The AfCFTA aims to bring together 1.3 billion people in a $3.4 trillion economic bloc that will be the largest free trade area since the establishment of the World Trade Organization.
Once fully operational, the African free trade accord has the potential of boosting the level of intra-Africa trade by more than 52 percent by the year 2022, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
According to the African Union (AU) Commission, the start of trading under the AfCFTA is a “fulfillment of a dream.”
The Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, emphasized that the latest development related to the continental free trade pact “is the fulfillment of the dream long aspired by the founding fathers of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), who have always wanted to create an African common market.” The OAU is the predecessor to the AU.
That said, obstacles remain – ranging from ubiquitous red tape and poor infrastructure to the entrenched protectionism of some of its members – must be overcome if the bloc is to reach its full potential.
Gyude W. Moore – a former Liberian minister who is now a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development – say the real work begins now.
“I would be surprised if they can have everything set up within 24 months,” he told Reuters. “For long-term success, I think we’ll need to look at how long it took Europe. This is a multi-decade process.”
Historic challenges including Africa’s poor road and rail links, political unrest, excessive border bureaucracy and petty corruption will not disappear overnight.
Observers says efforts to implement the deal will also likely face resistance from countries’ domestic interest groups. Fears of losing out to more competitive neighbours initially made some countries, including West African giant Nigeria, sceptical of the project.