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Africa summit launch ‘landmark’ free-trade deal

Ministers from across Africa started work Thursday before a scheduled summit to officially introduce a free trade agreement welcomed as “monumental” by the continent’s 55-nation group. AU Commission Chief Moussa Faki Mahamat praised the freshly minted African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) treaty at the opening of the conference in Niger’s capital Niamey.

“Its ultimate objective is to build a continent-wide embedded industry. It’s a notable accomplishment that can even be characterised as historic, “said Faki.

“Despite the difficulties, the founding parents (of the AU) would be pleased and worship us from where they are now.” The AfCTA seeks to wipe out all trade barriers between African nations— an objective that backers claim could boost trade by over a quarter.

Sceptics dread that tiny producers and family farms will have a damaging effect as boundaries are fully open to exports.

Talks on the system started in 2002, culminating in a draft agreement adopted last year and formally started existence at the beginning of May after at least 22 nations reached a limit of ratification.

On Tuesday, when Nigeria— the last major African holdout — announced President Muhammadu Buhari would register the treaty in Niamey, the AfCTA received a substantial increase.

The meeting will initiate AfCTA’s “operating stage,” but participants must still thrash out essential information.

They include the development of organisational buildings and consensus on the location of the office; the schedule for scaling away prices; and decision on vital but comprehensive laws such as laws of entry.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the pact was “a groundbreaking continent-wide undertaking… a significant advance on the path to economic integration.” “We have no option but to truly liberate trade and enforce this treaty if we want to make strides… ensuring that our favourite continent’s individuals are the excellent beneficiaries of their assets,” he said.

Only 16% of African countries ‘ trade is currently with mainland neighbours.

One cause is that intra-African trade median prices of 6.1% are higher than imports to non-African nations.


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