Africa leaders ink largest free market treaty


African heads of states and governments during the African Union Summit for the agreement to establish the Continental Free Trade Area in Kigali, Rwanda, on March 21, 2018. AFP PHOTO

African leaders gathered in Kigali have signed the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) treaty to create the world’s largest single market.

The agreement, signed by more than 40 African nations, is said to be the largest since the creation of the World Trade Organisation.

The pact aims at boosting intra-Africa trade by making Africa a single market of 1.2 billion people with a cumulative gross domestic product of more than $3.4 trillion.

“For Africa, after decades of independence, marked by persistent under-development and a marginal place in the international system, the terms of the debate are laid down in almost Manichean terms: Unite or Perish, as Kwame Nkrumah said at the Addis Ababa founding Summit,” African Union Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat told heads of states and governments at the signing ceremony.

“Our peoples, our business community and our youth, in particular, cannot wait any longer to see the lifting of the barriers that divide our continent, hinder its economic take-off and perpetuate misery, even though Africa is abundantly endowed with wealth,” Mr Mahamat said.

Of the 55 African Union member states, 44 countries signed the pact establishing the CTFA and 43 nations the Kigali Declaration launching the free trade area.

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Notable of among those that failed to sign the deal is the continent’s largest economy, Nigeria, with President Muhammadu Buhari having skipped the AU summit amid reservations on the treaty.

Some 27 countries also signed the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and the African Passport.

The protocol allows for free movement of people, right to live and establish a business anywhere in Africa.

“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,” Rwandan President Paul Kagame, the chairman of the AU said.

For businesses, the CFTA commits governments to remove tariffs on 90 per cent of goods produced within the continent and phase out the levy in the future.

Governments now have to ratify the CFTA in their countries within the next six months, by September. Those that did not sign can also do so during the window period.