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The UN has pledged its full support for the development of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA), claiming it would develop strategies to maximise opportunities created as member states begin to implement it.

UN deputy secretary-general Amina Mohammed said the world body was ready to work with African countries on AfCFTA which, once implemented, would become the world's biggest trade bloc since the establishment of the World Trade Organisation in 1974.

Mohammed said the UN was working with 16 African governments to develop opportunities, and the number would be increased by next year.

“We are committed to working with African institutions to mobilise the resources that will be required for full implementation of the AfCFTA,” Mohammed said.

“In the first instance, the African Regional Integration Trust Fund will support countries to mobilise resources to finance regional integration.”

The free trade area was agreed to last weekend during the 12th extraordinary session of the African Union (AU) in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said the agreement was a milestone that would fulfil a dream crafted by the founders of the Organisation of African Union 60 years ago when they conceptualised an integrated Africa.

Ramaphosa made his remarks at the conclusion of his working visit to Niger, where he attended the 12th Extraordinary Summit of the AU.

The Niger summit marked the entry into force of AfCFTA and formally launched the operational phase of the African Internal Market.

Ramaphosa said he anticipated that the agreement would catapult the economies of many African countries on to a higher growth trajectory.

He said South Africa stood to benefit significantly from being part of the world’s largest single market encompassing 55 countries with a combined population of 1.2 billion people and a combined gross domestic product of $3.2 trillion (R45.35trln).

“The president sees the implementation of the agreement as a platform for African countries to trade among themselves and reap the benefits of the tariff-free area,” Ramaphosa’s office said in a statement.

Ramaphosa held a number of bilateral meetings with his counterparts, including Zimbabwe leader Emmerson Mnangagwa; Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi; Niger leader Mahamadou Issoufou; and Egypt president and chairperson of the AU, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Mohammed said the UN would work with the AU to co-ordinate and leverage complementary funding sources from the African Development Bank’s Africa50 Fund, to the AU’s Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa, and China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

“This will help to ensure that trade policy is both gender-sensitive and responds to demographic realities, thereby contributing more fully to sustainable development,” Mohammed said.

“Trade can contribute to either widening or closing inclusion and gender gaps, depending on how the process is managed. So we are also working with governments to counterbalance the distributional and gender-differentiated effects of trade liberalisation.”

ANA