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The African Continental Free Trade Area

Published: 
Saturday, May 19, 2018

On March 21 this year, 44 African heads of state and government officials signed the agreement to establish the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which was initiated by the African Union.

The signing took place in Kigali, Rwanda.

Since 2012, the AU had begun to develop the AfCFTA. The free trade area will be one of the world’s largest in terms of the number of countries, covering more than 1.2 billion people and over $4 trillion in combined consumer and business spending if all 55 countries join.

Calestous Juma of Harvard Kennedy School and Francis Mangeni from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, in Zambia, wrote: “The TFTA is a key landmark in Africa’s economic history. It ranks in significance with the independence of Ghana in 1957, the creation of the Organisation for African Unity in 1963, and its reinvention as the African Union in 2002.

To paraphrase Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president, the best way to learn to be a continental free trade area is to be a continental free trade area” (June 11, 2015)

There are some optimistic expressions about its future.

Matthew Davies, Al Jazeera’s Africa Business Report editor, stated, “Generally speaking, it’s the first stage of closer economic co-operation with a view to possible integration. The next stage would be a customs union, where each country would have the same tariffs with the outside world and low or no tariffs between each other.

“Then comes a common market, where goods, services and labour move tariff and quota-free between the countries and the bloc has a common trade relationship with the rest of the globe. Further integration involves political union and a unifying single currency.”

Landry Signé writing in The Washington Post stated: “The AU and its member countries hope the AfCFTA will accelerate continental integration and address the overlapping membership of the continent’s regional economic communities (RECs).

Many African countries belong to multiple RECs, which tends to limit the efficiency and effectiveness of these organizations.”

While the rest of world is looking at this African development, the current Government of T&T, as well as a significant section of our African elite (not necessarily the same thing!), have shown no enthusiasm for African affairs. Both have conveniently bypassed the UN declaration of the current International Decade for the People of African Descent.

The National Joint Action Committee and the Emancipation Support Committee are the main organisations keeping IDPAD prominent. Both organisations observe the annual African Liberation Day on May 25th which commemorates the founding of the OAU/AU. The Government and the African elite are indifferent to the 2003 declaration that the African Diaspora is the Sixth Region of the AU.

Any integration process is a laborious and contentious matter. For example, Nigeria, one of the key negotiators for the Kigali agreement, has not signed on as yet because President Buhari said he needed more time to consult with unions and businesses to assess the effect that AfCFTA would pose to his country’s manufacturing and small-business sector.

Burundi, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia and Benin have not yet signed.

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, a staunch advocate for a more united Africa, stated his frustration with Nigeria and the other countries’ failure to take part. He said that he had long advertised all African countries to participate.

The European Union took more than 50 years to accomplish what exists today. And it still has to contend with Brexit.

Caricom, described as “the oldest surviving integration movement in the developing world”, was inaugurated in July 1973 by the Treaty of Chaguaramas, later revised in 2002. Caricom still seeks an elusive single market and economy.

Information about the African Continental Free Trade Area demands greater exposure in the Caribbean. An economically (and politically) united Africa means a lot for the self-esteem of Africans in our region.

Aiyegoro Ome

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