African countries usher in new era of free trade under AfCFTA

After months of delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, African countries are now trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), in a landmark development for trading conditions on the continent.

AfCFTA aims to bring together 1.3 billion people in a US$3.4 trillion economic bloc that will be the largest free trade area since the establishment of the World Trade Organization.

Proponents of the agreement say it will boost trade among African countries and help develop intra-continental value chains, while the World Bank estimates it could lift tens of millions out of poverty by 2035.

“There is a new Africa emerging with a sense of urgency and purpose and an aspiration to become self-reliant,” said Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo during an online launch ceremony on New Year’s Day.

However, issues such as legislative red tape, poor infrastructure and entrenched protectionism of some of members will provide obstacles to frictionless trading under the trading bloc.

Every African country except Eritrea has signed on to the AfCFTA framework agreement, with 34 nations ratifying the treaty.

“I would be surprised if they can have everything set up within 24 months,” former Liberian minister W. Gyude Moore told Reuters. “For long-term success, I think we’ll need to look at how long it took Europe. This is a multi-decade process.”