The dream for a Continental Free Trade area in Africa became a reality when Gambia ratified the agreement. Initially, prospects of the agreement becoming a reality were hindered by a lack of numbers—falling short on the minimum threshold. With Gambia ratifying the agreement, the bill can now be actualized.
Gambia became the 22nd African country to approve the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement—AfCFTA. Ethiopia was the 21st country to ratify AfCFTA when it approved the agreement on March 21, 2019. Gambia parliament ratified the agreement on April 2 2019.
African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement
The African Union brokered the agreement in 2018. The agreement was then signed by 44 countries on March 21 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda—out of a total of 55 member states. Among other provisions, the agreement requires member states to remove tariffs from 90 percent of goods. In addition, member countries will be required to allow free access of goods and services across the continent.
From March 17 to March 21, 2018, an Extraordinary Summit on AfCFTA was held in Kigali, Rwanda. During the summit, the agreement establishing AfCFTA was presented to African leaders for signatures. The agreement was framed such that it goes into force 30 days after 22 countries have ratified the agreement instruments. Furthermore, ratifying states are required to deposit the instruments with the Chairperson of AUC—African Union Commission.
Gambia’s ratification and completion of all due processes satisfy this constitutional requirement to bring the agreement into effect.
Only 20 countries have ratified and deposited the required instruments with the AUC Chairperson—as of April 16, 2019. Two countries, Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone, have obtained parliamentary approval but have not deposited the instruments.
The 20 countries that have already deposited the instruments of ratification include The Gambia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Togo, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Uganda, South Africa, Namibia, Mauritania, Mali, eSwatini (former Swaziland), Guinea, Djibouti, Congo Republic, Chad, Niger, Rwanda, Kenya, and Ghana.
Notable Non Signatory
The AfCFTA is moving forward, however, Nigeria’s lack of commitment to the agreement is a big blow. Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy but only an estimated 10% of its trade volume is done with other African countries. Nigeria’s hold out has been blamed primarily on influential Labor Unions
During the 2019 African CEO Forum in Kagali last month, President Kagame of Rwanda who had championed the AfCFTA during his tenure as the African Union Chairperson shared that he had reached out to Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari to sign the deal.
There are still concerns however about how the agreement will be executed. At the same event, African billionaire Naguib Sawiris said: “The challenges are going to be in the implementation.”
Impact of the Agreement
The AfCFTA is expected to boost free trade and investment across Africa. Once it comes into effect, the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement area will create the largest free trade area in the world. The agreement will bring together all the 55 member states of the AU. This means the agreement will cover a market of over 1.2 billion people. The Economic Commission for Africa estimates that this agreement has the potential of boosting intra-African trade by 52.3 percent.