A pan-Africa free-trade zone will be launched in January despite the coronavirus pandemic, although some temporary arrangements will need to be put in place, as not all of the customs infrastructure will be ready in time.
The African Continental Free Trade Area aims to bring more than a billion people together in an economic bloc worth about $3tn (£2.3tn) a year and – by reducing barriers to trade – improve living standards.
The continent-wide free-trade zone was supposed to take effect in July, but according to its secretariat, that will happen on 1 January 2021, even if it means creating a system to credit traders retroactively for lower customs duties, which should start immediately.
This week, negotiations resumed between countries to deal with final sticking points around rules of origin and market access.
However the revised January launch date may be optimistic given that 30 of the 54 countries that have signed up for the free-trade zone have yet to ratify the deal.
Africa’s biggest economy, Nigeria, ratified it last week, but the country’s borders remain closed to nearly all trade, amid efforts to stop smuggling.