The Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which was enacted in Kigali, Rwanda in 2018, seeks to create the largest trade zone in the world. It will cover a market of 1.2 billion people and a combined gross domestic product of US$2.5 trillion. AfCFTA is projected to increase intra-African trade by 52% by the year 2022, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and will remove tariffs on 90% of goods.
The first countries to ratify the agreement were Kenya and Ghana, while Gambia was the most recent country to do so. This means that the threshold of 22 ratifying states for the free trade area to formally exist has now been met. Of the 55 African Union states, 52 have signed the agreement, with Nigeria being the only major country missing from the agreement.
The trade agreement is set to become operational within a month after the required number of endorsements are deposited with the AU chairperson’s office. It is anticipated that the agreement will eliminate current high tariffs, generate employment opportunities for a rapidly growing, young workforce and harmonise the work of already-existing regional economic communities.
Despite these promising projections, countries like Nigeria, Benin and Eritrea have yet to sign the agreement, due to pressure from trade and labour unions, according to the website Quartz. At a meeting of the Africa CEO Forum, Naguib Sawiris, executive chairman of the Egyptian Orascom Investment Holding, said, “The challenges are going to be in the implementation.” This is in response to concerns from the private sector on how the agreement will be executed, considering all the political red tape that will inevitably be involved.
In a speech at the same conference, Rwandan president Paul Kagame said that making sure AfCFTA succeeds represents “the very highest consequence for Africa’s future”. He acknowledged the role of politics and policy in driving countries and the continent forward, stating that he reached out to President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria to sign the deal.
The ambassador of #Gambia Sulayman Alieu Jack deposited his country's instruments of ratification for #AfCFTA this morning. We are now at TWENTY signed formal ratifications, only TWO needed for the #AfCFTA ready to enter into force. Countdown to the world's largest trading bloc! pic.twitter.com/G1o9iA7Bfc
— Moussa Faki Mahamat (@AUC_MoussaFaki) April 16, 2019
“Whatever we try to do, even in terms of economic development, the result comes back to the politics surrounding it,” he said. “If the politics is bad, everything else is bad. That is why open, responsive and accountable governance is so critical.”
A snapshot of the AfCFTA’s progress is as follows:
- 52 countries have signed the AfCFTA agreement
- 22 countries have ratified the agreement as of 2 April 2019
- 15 countries have deposited their instruments of AfCFTA ratification with the AU
- Seven countries, including Gambia, have received parliamentary approval for ratification but are yet to deposit instruments with AU
- Eritrea, Nigeria and Benin have yet to sign the AfCFTA agreement
- The AfCFTA agreement will enter into force 30 days after the required number of ratifications have been deposited with the AU.