JOHANNESBURG  -  A successful implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement cannot be achieved without ensuring that the integration process does not lead to widening inequalities or exclusion, an economic forum has heard.

Delegates at the African Economic Conference in Rwanda said the AfCFTA signed by 44 countries earlier this year was not without its potential downsides.

The agreement aims to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, paving the way for the establishment of a continental customs union.

Deputy governor of the Rwanda National Bank Monique Nsanzabaganwa cited hunger, gender imbalance and a growing population with young people distancing themselves from agriculture and primary production, among some areas of concern.

“A third of the East African region is affected by hunger," she said, noting that a gender pay gap meant that 75 percent of women were working for no wages. "Women may be falling through the cracks."

Other delegates underscored the importance of strong governance and institutions in ensuring that women and other vulnerable sectors were not left behind.

The annual African Economic Conference, which brings together leading academics, high ranking government representatives and development practitioners from across the globe, aims to foster dialogue and exchange of knowledge in the search for solutions to the continent's development challenges. 

The 2018 edition focused on “transformative initiatives for accelerating progress in infrastructure integration that are inclusive and promote equity, including the removal of barriers for movement of people, goods, and services across borders".

- African News Agency (ANA)