African Union braces for free trade area

The African Union summit in Niamey brought together heads of state in the continent to launch a continental free-trade zone that, if successful, would unite 1.3 billion people and create a $3.4 trillion economic bloc.

So far, 54 African State agreed on the accord setting up the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which would help scrap most tariffs and other commercial barriers in the African continent and usher a new era of development.

The Sunday summit in Niamey, where King Mohammed VI of Morocco was represented by the Foreign Minister, was focused on determining the rules of origin, a digital payment system, an online tool for listing products and tariffs and a monitoring system to deal with non-trade barriers.

The agreement now includes 54 signatories, after Benin and Nigeria joined the accord on Sunday during the summit. In total, 27 countries including Kenya, Ghana, Gambia and Gabon have ratified the pact that came into force in May 2019. Morocco said it would ratify the text within days, according to Bloomberg.

Ghana will be home for the secretariat, or permanent office, of the trade zone, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi — chairman of the African Union — said in his closing statement

Economists say significant challenges remain, including poor road and rail links, large areas of unrest, excessive border bureaucracy and petty corruption that have held back growth and integration.

The IMF in a May report described a free-trade zone as a potential “economic game changer” of the kind that has boosted growth in Europe and North America

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