Africans will have to wait longer for the commencement of Free Trade in the continent. The Secretary-General of the African Continental Free Trade Area, Wamkele Mene announced that the agreement of African free trade will not begin on July 1 as planned due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
Mr. Mene announced through a conference call yesterday, saying; "it is not possible to commence trade as we had intended on 1 July under the current circumstances."
Observers and critics alike have questioned the Secretary General’s announcements as they claim he did not give enough information on the challenges for the postponement and whether there was a new targeted implementation date. According to reports, Mr. Mene left the conference call before the question and answer session – an action which many critics have termed unprofessional.
Although the announcement left many stakeholders yearning for more information, the Secretary-General, however, reiterated his confidence that the deal would still go forward.
"The political commitment remains, the political will remains to integrate Africa's market and to implement the agreement as was intended," he said.
Mene said that as African governments do not have the firepower to launch the same type of economic stimulus packages that the United States and Europe are putting forward to mitigate the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic, intra-African trade could serve the same purpose.
"That's our stimulus package. That's how we're going to get back on track as Africa."
The 55-nation continental free-trade zone would, if successful, create a $3.4 trillion economic bloc with 1.3 billion people across Africa and constitute the largest new trading bloc since the World Trade Organization formed in 1994.
The African Continental Free Trade Area is a free trade area which as at its inauguration on 21 March 2019 had 28 countries. It was created by the African Continental Free Trade Agreement among 54 of the 55 African Union nations.
It took effect on 30 May 2019, with Nigeria becoming the 53rd country to join the African Continental Free Trade Area in July 2019 after the country’s President Muhammadu Buhari signed the AfCFTA Agreement in Niamey, Niger Republic. The Republic of Benin also joined the group afterward, bringing the total number of members to 54 out of the 55 African countries that endorsed the AfCFTA Agreement. Eritrea remains the only country yet to sign the agreement.
Stakeholders in the Commerce and Trade Industries believe the agreement if implemented will open the investment potentials of the African continent to the world.