The continental free trade agreement is a historic milestone for the continent, says African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) secretary general Wamkele Mene
Last week, South Africa launched two trade ships, to Kenya and Ghana, as it became part of the trade agreement which aims to restore historic trade routes on the continent.
Mene said that in an era where unity, self-reliance and economic empowerment were not just ideals but necessities, the AfCFTA “stands as a shining example of what can be achieved when African countries come together with a shared vision and and a unified political leadership to finally address the lack of intra-trade in the continent”.
“The AfCFTA , (which) officially began trading on January 1, 2001, aims to create the world’s largest single market, fostering economic integration, trade liberalisation and increased co-operation across the African continent.
“As we look back on the achievements of this monumental achievement, the promise of the AfCFTA is rapidly transforming into reality and I am honoured to lead a team of women and men in laying a solid foundation for this incredible milestone for our continent,” said Mene.
Speaking at the South African launch event on Wednesday in the port city of eThekwini, President Cyril Ramaphosa said Africa was principally exporters of raw materials, selling rocks and black liquid to the world, instead of harnessing the oil and the minerals to industrialise the continent.
“We need to change this. Over the last few years, our trade ministers have been finalising rules of origin of what constitutes an African product.
“They have done well to finalise 92% of the products that nations trade with each other.”
Ramaphosa said more effort needed to be put into building African champions in finance, retail and telecommunications, and in expanding tourism between African countries.
“The implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area will accelerate the development of regional and local value chains, offering investors access to a population of 1.7 billion people with a fast-growing continental GDP (gross domestic product).”
He said industrial development was core to Africa’s integration.
“It builds Africa’s productive capacities, adds greater value to our products and diversifies trade beyond the traditional commodities.
“We have already seen the potential of greater cross-border collaboration.”
Ramaphosa said continental trade would benefit the country’s producers and see a huge increase in traffic through its ports, airports and land-based border posts.
“The products made in Gauteng, Limpopo, North West, Free State, Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape will flow through these ports to markets beyond our borders.”