African continental free trade area gains momentum with 49th ratification (News Analysis by Aimable TWahirwa, PANA Correspondent)

Kigali, Rwanda (PANA) - Five countries - Burundi, Lesotho, Namibia, Sierra Leone and South Africa - this week joined the other African  states in ratifying the African continental free trade area AfCFTA, only three months after it was officially opened for signature, but some governments are still assessing their policies before eliminating tariffs on intra-African trade in goods

The move comes after African heads of government agreed to establish a continental free trade area in 2012 and started negotiations in 2015.

The agreement which has been later endorsed in March this year, commits countries to removing tariffs on 90 percent of goods, with 10 percent of "sensitive items" to be phased in later.

The AfCFTA which is expected to establish a single liberalized market in a move to spur industrialization, infrastructural development, economic diversification and trade across the continent, is targetting to benefit to more than 1.2 billion people, according to official projections.

However, some political analysts believe that the speed at which the treaty received 49 ratifications till now shows a lot of significant political commitment and will.

From the current situation, at least 22 ratifications minimum are required to enable the AfCFTA to come into force, while 15 ratifications are required for the protocol on free movement of persons, right of residence and right of establishment.

Trade experts and economists interviewed by PANA pointed out that despite current efforts by African leaders to promote the good use of a large market comprising of a GDP of 2.5 Trillion US dollars, there are still some challenges the continental trading bloc would face during the implementation phase.

As some African heads of State and Government attending the African Union (AU) summit in Nouakchott, also voiced optimism of better days ahead, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame who is currently the Chairman of the African Union has emphasized that "the Africa we want is being built before our eyes piece by piece"

For a successful deal, the Rwandan leader also encouraged other African nations to keep pace with these efforts and do even more and better going forward.

"This is significant progress and more is underway (...) It therefore signifies great progress towards the Africa we want and building it in the manner we have chosen," the Rwandan leader said.

While African leaders are committed than ever in tackling the issues of highest priority for "our continent", including the ratification of the African continental free trade area, Rwandan President Kagame noted that there are some countries which have [already] deposited their instrument of ratification while [others] will do so next week.

Momentum seemed to surge recently after recent official reports have confirmed that that seven of the world's ten fastest - growing  countries are in African and the continent also has  a  fast-growing middle class.

Despite current efforts and trends in line with the strategic objectives of the Africa Union’s Agenda 2063, one of the blueprints for transforming Africa into the global powerhouse of the future, there are still some challenges lying ahead in the full implementation of the ambitious agenda, trade experts and economists say.

This is because they believe that one of the major challenges in the formation of the trade blocs is related to the fact that some smaller economies are reluctant to join because they are likely to get fewer advantages compared to bigger economies.

"One of the key solutions to address these challenges is to ensure the structural transformation of national economies by making sure that at least each member state managed to improve its infrastructure to enhance regional and continental connectivity, experts say.

The merger among the African countries will lead to competition among them, which the member states must be ready to address, Trade experts and economists said.

But the underlying mindset of "The Africa we want" might render all these trade initiatives  successful, analysts say.

-0- PANA TWA/VAO 3July2018

03 july 2018 13:51:17

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