ADDIS ABABA Ethiopia
(Xinhua) -- As the African Continental
Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) currently stands ready for entry into
effect, experts and analysts have emphasized the pact as a vital
imperative to spur Africa’s economic integration and
On April 2, Gambia became
the 22nd nation to ratify the free trade pact, the minimum
threshold needed to approve the deal among the 55-member states
of the African Union (AU).
Following 22 ratifications that were needed for the free
trade pact to entry into force, the AfCFTA is expected to
officially commence operations during the upcoming AU’s
first-ever mid-year coordination meeting set to be held in
The AfCFTA mainly aspires to create a single continental
market for goods and services, with free movement of business
persons and investments, and thus pave the way for accelerating
the establishment of the Continental Customs Union and the
African customs union, according to the AU.
The UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) said the free
trade pact, if ratified by all the 55 African countries, will be
regarded as the world’s largest free trade zone by the number of
countries, covering more than 1.2 billion people with a combined
GDP of 2.5 trillion U.S. dollars.
The ECA also stressed that the AfCFTA, once operational, will
have a "huge impact" on the level of intra-Africa trade, which
is projected to grow by 52.3 percent by 2020 under the
continental free trade pact.
Costantinos Bt. Costantinos, who served as an economic
adviser to the African Union and the United Nations Economic
Commission for Africa, told Xinhua on Thursday that the AfCFTA
would bring many direct as well as indirect opportunities in the
continent’s socioeconomic and political sphere.
"African countries can benefit from free trade by increasing
their amount and access to economic resources," said
Costantinos, adding "The AfCFTA will also allow African-owned
companies to enter new markets, with significant reduction in
"Free trade agreement will also ensure small nations to
obtain the economic resources needed to produce consumer goods
or services," the expert noted.
The expert also argued that African countries with friendly
neighbors may also be able to import goods more often, while the
free trade pact would also bring about indirect advantages in
improving countries’ internal infrastructure, brings better
security capabilities as well as improved political conditions.
The decision by Gambia’s parliament followed ratification of
the AfCFTA by the Ethiopian House of People’s Representative,
the Ethiopian parliament’s lower house, on March 22, which came
as the continent marked the first anniversary of the signing of
The African free trade pact, which was signed by 44 African
countries when it was launched in Kigali, capital of Rwanda, in
March 2018, is meant to create a tariff-free continent that can
grow local businesses, boost intra-African trade, spur
industrialization and create more jobs, according to the ECA.
David Luke, African Trade Policy Center Coordinator at the
ECA, recently described the AfCFTA as "one of the milestone
trade policy developments in Africa which is expected to change
the way Africa does trade and catalyze transformation in a way
trade policy has not done before."
"Africa is set for massive transformation as more countries
are expected to sign up and ratify the African Continental Free
Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) in 2019," Luke said in a continental
meeting that was held in Addis Ababa last month.
"Getting the AfCFTA right will depend on getting the level of
ambition that we have as a continent," Luke added.
Costantinos, also professor of public policy at the Addis
Ababa University in Ethiopia, however, stressed the need to set
up "comprehensive policy-making and preferential treatment for
Africa’s most at-risk economies" under the AfCFTA.
The expert also underscored the importance that
"participating countries under the AfCFTA build an efficient and
participatory institutional architecture to avoid leaving any
According to Costantinos, harmonizing Africa’s heterogeneous
economies under one agreement could be a major challenge, and
necessitates strong attention.
"The AfCFTA has the greatest levels of income disparity of
any continental free trade agreement," Costantinos said, citing
Africa’s current economic conditions in which over 50 percent of
the continent’s cumulative GDP contributed by Egypt, Nigeria and
South Africa, while Africa’s six sovereign island nations
collectively contribute just 1 percent.