The African Continental Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), if fully implemented, will not only give a substantial boost to Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) but also help expand the freedoms of the continent’s citizens, the majority of whom have never been outside their countries of origin, says a top Economic Commission for Africa official.
In his closing remarks to the African Economic Conference that was held in Kigali, Rwanda, under the theme; Regional and Continental Integration for Africa’s Development, ECA’s Macroeconomic Policy Division Director, Adam Elhiraika, said; “Regional integration is not only good because of the boost that it gives to our economies, but because it allows Africans to better live the lives they want.”
Africans, he said, need the freedom to travel in their own continent, adding the free movement of people will make the continent a much better place, especially as Africans exchange ideas and other services.
Mr. Elhiraika said regional economic integration will reduce barriers to the movement of goods, services, people, capital and ideas across borders within the region, raising the need for countries that have not yet signed the historic agreement to do so.
He urged countries that have signed the AfCFTA to ratify the accord so it can come into effect and change the face of the continent as the game-changer that it is expected to be. The AfCFTA will enter into force once 22 member States have deposited their instruments of ratification.
“Africans want regional integration. In the language of Africa’s Agenda 2063, regional integration is an essential part of the Africa that Africans want,” the ECA Director said, adding regional and economic integration was the most important priority for the continent at present.
He saluted the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for working seamlessly with the ECA in hosting the conference that saw 300 experts discussing issues around the AfCFTA; intra-regional trade; how far regional integration will be inclusive and how it might be more; how to support the private sector to take advantage of new opportunities presented by regional integration; the importance of infrastructure in facilitating integration; and what regional integration means for Africa’s youth, among other topics.
At least 49 of Africa’s 55 countries have signed the agreement and Kenya, Ghana, eSwatini, Chad, Niger, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Guinea Conakry have deposited their instruments of ratification.
South Africa is expected to deposit its instrument of ratification during the February African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Once it enters into force, the AfCFTA will constitute the largest free trade area globally. It aims to build an integrated market in Africa that will see a market of more than one-billion people, with a combined gross domestic product of about $3.3-trillion.
The next AEC conference will take place in December 2019.