The Africa Continental Free Trade Area could potentially become the most important agreement African leaders have ever come up with. With a market of 1.2 billion people and a combined GDP of $2 trillion, the trade area is poised to become a prime exhibit of the value that integration can unlock. The United Nations Secretary General congratulated African countries for the power move saying, "‘With the joint African Union – United Nations Agreement for the implementation of Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, as our common framework, the entire United Nations family stands ready to support the continent as it forges forward the entry into force of the Continental Free Trade Area in the coming months."
UNCTAD has calculated that cutting intra-African tariffs could bring $3.6 billion in welfare gains to the continent through a boost in production and cheaper goods. However, Nigeria did not participate, reportedly saying his government needed more time for input from local businesses before he could sign the pact. Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia, Burundi, Eritrea, Benin, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau also did not sign. South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the Kigali declaration on the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement but did not sign the agreement itself citing Constitutional and internal processes that had not been followed.
Countries have been more reluctant to sign the free movement protocol which has only 27 signatories. The next hurdle is the ratification of the protocols in different countries by September this year. After the formalities, the countries can start to deal with the practicalities of the Trade Area. It may look good on paper but there is a lot of work to be done. Transport and logistics have always been a big issue in Africa and this ambitious trade area will not be spared by poor road networks and generally expensive services. As Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the AU Commission, said (quoting from Kwame Nkrumah), "The task ahead is great indeed, and heavy is the responsibility; and yet it is a noble and glorious challenge – a challenge which calls for the courage to dream, the courage to believe, the courage to dare, the courage to do, the courage to envision, the courage to fight, the courage to work, the courage to achieve – to achieve the highest excellencies and the fullest greatness of man."