President Cyril Ramaphosa with Minister of Dirco Lindiwe Sisulu and Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davie. Picture: Kopano Tlape/GCIS

Kigali - President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday said that his government needed more time to consult relevant stakeholders about the continental free trade area treaty before signing it.

Ramaphosa did not sign the crucial agreement at the African Union  (AU) Extraordinary Summit in Rwanda's capital Kigali - only signing the declaration on the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

AfCFTA is aimed at deepening African economic integration, promoting agricultural development, food security, industrialisation and structural economic transformation through single-air continental transport market with free movement of persons, capital, goods and services. 

The agreement is reported to have the potential to create a unified market of $1.2 billion and a GDP of over $25 trillion.  

A total of 44 countries signed the AfCFTA, while 27 signed the protocol to the treaty establishing the African economic community relaying to free movement of persons.

Video: Siphelele Dludla/ANA

Ramaphosa said that his government welcomed the "historic moment" saying that it had been dreamt of by the founding fathers of the AU.

"We are part of this process of opening up Africa for trade. All that is holding us back from signing the actual agreement is our own consultation process. We still need to consult at home, to consult in Cabinet, to consult the partners at [the National Economic Development and Labour Council ] Nedlac, and finally to consult Parliamentarians, " Ramaphosa said.

"So we are really going the clean up process of ensuring that everybody is on board. As far as we are concerned as South Africa we are very much part of it. The agreement therefore is very much alive, it's not dead in the water. We as South Africa want free trade in Africa because we are an important player in the African continent."

Video: Siphelele Dludla/ANA

“This is an opportunity that is going to yield great benefits for all countries on the continent as well as big business, small companies and micro-traders,” Ramaphosa said.

In remarks prepared for delivery to the Summit, in his capacity as the Chair of the South African Development Community, President Ramaphosa said the trade-focused Kigali Summit was a “forward step in the arduous journey to translate the African Continental Free Trade Area legal instrument into an effective conduit for increased trade and investment across the African continent”.

”Africa’s vulnerabilities and limited participation in global trade are indicative of its traditional reliance on the export of raw commodities and the import of value-added products,” President Ramaphosa said.

Ramaphosa said that Nigeria did not sign the agreement for the same reasons.

Nigeria President Muhammad Buhari did not even attend the Summit after withdrawing from signing the trade agreement and said his government needed to do more consultation despite his Cabinet adopting it last week.

African News Agency/ANA and IOL