Economic 'game changer'? African leaders launch free-trade zone

Economic 'game changer'? African leaders launch free-trade zone

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari signs an agreement ahead of the lauching of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), during African Union summit in Niamey, Niger July 7, 2019.

The President signed the agreement at exactly 10:48 am local time, making Nigeria the 53rd state on the continent to append its signature to the document.

The core mandate of the Secretariat will be to implement the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement, which has since been ratified by 25 member states.

Garba Shehu, his spokesman, in a statement last Wednesday, said the president would be signing the Phase one of the agreement in the course of his attendance at the Mid-Year Coordination Meeting of the African Union and 12th Extraordinary Summit on AfCFTA in Niamey, Niger Republic in a few days.

As the largest economy on the continent, Nigeria's decision to sign the deal was a boost to the pact.

However, it changed course shortly before the deal was signed previous year following pressure from local unions and businesses that feared they would be uncompetitive if trade barriers are removed. "It's about time we started trading more with each other", she said.

Malawi's director of trade, Christina Chatima, told AFP the trade agreement as a "game changer for Africa".

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"Only the Southern African Development Community (SADC) (from 3.6 per cent of GDP in 1995 to 5.7 per cent in 2014) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) (from 0.8 per cent in 1995 to 1.9 per cent in 2014) have seen substantial increases in the share of intra-regional trade in GDP", the report indicated.

Nigeria had been a key backer of the plan to progressively reduce trade barriers on the continent since talks on the African Continental Free Trade Area got underway in 2002.

Both Presidents signed the agreement to applause at the summit in Niamey, the Nigerien capital, where the zone will officially be launched.

Mr Gwenzi said AfCFTA involved opening up of trade in goods and services to the rest of Africa.

The heated debate in Accra failed to institute the Union Government but the heads of state agreed to accelerate political and economic integration, strengthen the organs and institutions of the AU and then set a timeframe to establish a Union Government with the involvement of Africans and the diaspora.

The AfCFTA will create a single continental market for goods and services; enhance free movement of business persons and investments; enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level through exploiting opportunities for full-scale production.

The summit also saw the launch of a digital payments system for the zone and instruments that will govern rules of origin and tariff concessions, as well as monitor and seek to eliminate non-tariff obstacles to trade, the African Union said.

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