Minister of Trade and Industry Tarek Kabil affirmed that the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a great step towards establishing a common African market to achieve an African economic union, as AfCFTA will contribute to African economic integration, promote sustainable development, and increase growth rates for all African economies and peoples, along with Africa’s Agenda 2063, which represents the continent’s future roadmap for the next 50 years.
Kabil explained that the Egyptian political leadership prioritises the success of the agreement’s negotiations through promoting constructive and productive cooperation between all Africans. Kabil’s statement came during a speech he delivered on behalf of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi during the African Union (AU) heads of state summit in Kigali, Rwanda.
The AfCFTA agreement would result in the largest free-trade area in terms of participating countries since the formation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), as it would unite the 55 member countries of the African Union in tariff-free trade.
The prospective agreement’s countries have a cumulative GDP of $2.5tn and a market of 1.2 billion people. The free-trade area, which will include an easing of travel across the continent, is hoped to encourage Africa’s trade to diversify away from its traditional commodity exports outside of the continent, the volatile prices of which have hurt the economies of many countries.
However, not all the countries feel the same enthusiasm. Last weekend, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari announced that he would not attend the summit, despite his federal cabinet last week approving the deal.
According to Kabil, the establishment of the trade area is the culmination of the efforts exerted by representatives of African countries over the last two years to finalise the agreement, since negotiations started in the 18th AU summit held in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa in 2012.
He added that Africa needs to concentrate efforts to enrich the joint action to achieve African economic integration so that the continent becomes an active force in the international arena, stressing the importance of initiating the second phase negotiations on competition, investment, and intellectual property rights, which will contribute to the promotion of intra-trade in a way that will achieve prosperity for the African peoples.
Egypt advocates that the AU should follow up the implementation of the free-trade agreement and ensure the implementation of AfCFTA, as the agreement will contribute to enhancing the African trade system and increase the share of intra-African trade to 22% of total trade by 2022, according to Kabil.
The minister stressed the importance of liberalising services trade, increasing their contribution to achieving sustainable development goals, and enhancing industrial and infrastructure development in Africa. He added that improving the mobility of people is a must, to allow the free movement of businesspeople, technicians, and specialists. “Doing so would facilitate the transfer of technical knowledge and trade-related services in a number of areas of vital importance and promote sustainable economic growth,” he said.
Moreover, Kabil emphasised the importance of keeping pace with the progress and rapid technological development in the field of electronic commerce, especially with the growing importance of electronic commerce in recent times, noting that the volume of global electronic commerce amounted to about $1.92tn globally in 2016.
Consequently, Kabil called for experts in African countries to develop e-commerce legislation to protect privacy and databases and combat piracy.