By Jacquiline Wahu
African Heads of States have convened in Kigali, Rwanda to sign the treaty on the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA), one of Flagship Projects of African Union (AU) which will bring together trading amongst 55 member countries.
Kenya’s President, H.E Uhuru Kenyatta joined other African Leaders today as they deepen the economic integration process which will allow Africans to trade freely across the continent.
Formerly chairing African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), President Uhuru has played a key role in the realization of this agreement.
Additionally, in support of integration, he allowed all Africans to get visa on arrival in Kenya from year 2017, not based on reciprocity, and urged other countries to do the same as he believes that it is the foundation of Pan-Africanism.
The tariff-free-trade targets a market of 1.2 billion people and hoped to increase trade within Africa to foster growth of the economies of member countries.
The Treaty shall not only permit free movement of business persons but also right of residence and establishment in the said countries.
Estimations by UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) shows that the treaty’s enactment could rise intra-African trade by 52%p by 2022, compared with trade levels in 2010.
President Kagame of Rwanda, also current Chairman of AU, clarified that increased internal African trade is not meant to nullify business with the rest of the world.
According to AU, the Agreement aims at creating a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, therefore paving way for accelerating the establishment of the Continental Customs Union and the African customs union.
By so doing, it will expand the intra African trade through better harmonization and coordination of trade liberalization and facilitation regimes and instruments across Africa in general.
This will help resolve the challenges of multiple and overlapping memberships and expedite the regional and continental integration processes.
Finally, it will enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level through exploiting opportunities for scale production, continental market access and better reallocation of resources.
Even with all the benefits, not all have welcomed the pact with open arms. Some members seen to be reluctant include Nigeria’s Labour congress who warned their president against the deal, consequently, president Muhammadu Buhari did not attend the Signing event to ‘allow time for further consultations’.
President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda was also absent after cancelling his trip the last minute though reasons as to why are unclear.
Other concerns are that the benefits might not be spread out evenly but favour just a few members. This is therefore expected to draw attention of the bigger economies against the smaller ones.
CFTA is expected to come into force after its ratification today.
A second phase of negotiations will be held later to cover investment, competition policy and intellectual property.
CFTA shall be the second largest market after World Trade Organization which was founded in 1995 and currently has 164 member states.