NIAMEY: A landmark African free trade zone due to be ceremonially launched at a summit in Niger this weekend is expected to take effect from July 2020, the African Union (AU) trade commissioner said Friday.
“We have recommended to the summit that the actual date of trading should be the July 1, 2020,” Albert Muchanga, in charge of trade and industry at the 55-nation bloc, told AFP.
“It is not yet definitive, the summit has to consider that recommendation,” he sid.
However, “the ministers of trade have accepted, so naturally you would expect that the head of states will.” “I am very optimistic, the passion is spreading and everyone is ready to work hard for the better,” he added.
The launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) — 17 years in the making — will be the major focus at the AU summit.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and the most notable absentee to the deal alongside Benin and Eritrea, announced earlier this week that it would sign up to the AfCFTA in Niamey.
Muchanga said the accord, which will progressively phase out duties on 97 per cent of goods traded between African countries, would be a spur for growth.
“The biggest benefit is you are removing the fragmentation of Africa,” Muchanga said, predicting an influx of foreign capital that would create jobs and prosperity.
According to the AU, the zone, bringing together Africa’s 1.2 billion people into the world’s largest trade bloc, could increase intra-African trade by 60pc by 2022. Some however have feared that cheaper imports will hit small manufacturers and farming families.
Some countries would face a short-term hit to revenues but competition would drive innovation, Muchanga said.