Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo. File picture: Reuters/Mike Hutchings

Africa, the world’s largest free trade area of 1.2 billion people with a combined GDP of US$2.5 trillion, has launched the operational phase of its continental free trade area. Meeting in Niger at the 12th AU Summit, the African Union Heads of State and Government celebrated the entry into force of the African Continental Free Trade Area after 25 of 52 countries had ratified it. 

“We have, today, taken very important steps towards working with a common voice and a common purpose to exploit the abundant wealth and resources of our great continent for the benefit of all our peoples. Indeed, the ‘Africa We Want’ is achievable,” Ghanian President Nana Akufo-Addo said.  

Ghana is set to host the AfCFTA Secretariat, after having competed with Egypt, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, and Senegal. The enthusiasm of Ghana to host a significant organ of the African Union on its soil was palpable. President Akufo-Addo assured the other Heads of State that Ghana will put all the requisite facilities at the disposal of the Secretariat, so that it can run as a world-class organisation. At the Summit Akufo-Addo announced that Ghana will donate US$10 million to operationalise the Secretariat.

“We owe it to generations unborn to ensure that the biggest trading bloc on the globe, whose outcomes will be rewarding to all, and which will assist in attaining the 'Africa We Want', does not falter,” Akufo-Addo said. 

Nigeria also made headlines by signing up to the free trade area, giving it a major boost given the size of the Nigerian economy. Only Benin and Eritrea have yet to sign onto the AfCFTA. 

The continental free trade area provides major opportunities for South Africa to expand into new markets in West and North Africa, especially in the export of value added goods and services. Currently most of South Africa’s exports to the continent go to Southern and East Africa. The new structure also aims to make business within Africa less cumbersome by addressing complicated customs arrangements and streamlining processes. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa and Rwandan President Paul Kagame oversaw the launch of the password controlled Tariff Concession Portal, which will allow countries which are ready to extend tariff preferences to do so in a secure manner.

* Shannon Ebrahim is the Group Foreign Editor