African Continental Free Trade Agreement delayed due to COVID-19 outbreak

The implementation of Africa’s ground-breaking continental free trade deal will not begin at the start of July as planned due to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a senior official.

“It is obviously not possible to commence trade as we had intended on 1 July under the current circumstances,” said Wamkele Mene, secretary-general of the African Continental Free Trade Area on a conference call yesterday.

Mene said he was confident the deal would still go forward but was unable to give a new targeted implementation date for the 55-nation free trade zone that would create a US$3.4 trillion economic bloc with 1.3 billion people across Africa.

“The political commitment remains, the political will remains to integrate Africa’s market and to implement the agreement as was intended,” he added before admitting that African governments do not have the same firepower to launch stimulus packages as Western states do.

However, Mene said that intra-African trade could serve the same purpose in mitigating the economic damage caused by the pandemic. “That’s our stimulus package. That’s how we’re going to get back on track as Africa.”

The African Continental Free Trade Area is set to become the largest new trading bloc since the World Trade Organization formed in 1994.