It was all pomp and pageantry in March 2018, when 44 African countries signed a vital continental free trade agreement in the Rwandan capital Kigali to enable the long-awaited economic integration and movement of goods and persons across member states.
This agreement was first introduced in January 2012 during the 18th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The member states adopted the decision to establish the Continental Free Trade Area by 2017.
It was finally signed by the 44 countries out of the 55 AU member states in 2018 after two years of negotiation.
The agreement is meant to 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.
It will also bring together the 1.2 billion African population with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of more than $2 trillion with the commitments of the countries to remove tariffs on 90 percent of goods, with 10 percent of “sensitive items” to be phased in later.
However, 11 countries failed to sign the agreement for diverse reasons. The countries are Nigeria, South Africa, Benin, Botswana, Burundi, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Namibia, Sierra Leoneand Zambia.
They are on the fence due to reasons including pressures from business leaders and labour unions who believe the agreement could affect their economies.
Meanwhile, Ghana and Kenya have made history in May as the first countries out of the 44 states to ratify the Continental Free Trade Area agreement. They submitted their instruments of ratification ahead of the 180 days deadline for the landmark agreement to come into force – with or without the 11 countries.
#Ghana and #Kenya today made history as the first two countries on the Continent to deposit the instrument of ratification of the #ContinentalFreeTradeAreaAgreement. I hope this will galvanize other countries who have signed the CFTA to ratify it by 2019. #TheAfricaWeWant pic.twitter.com/EYr8EV4e98
— Moussa Faki Mahamat (@AUC_MoussaFaki) May 10, 2018