The upcoming 30th Ordinary Session of the African Union (AU) Assembly of Heads of State and Government is expected to receive a progress report on the status of negotiations of the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA), an official has told Sunday Times.
The Summit will convene in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from January 28 to 29, with Rwanda, and President Paul Kagame, expected to take over leadership from Guinea, and President Alpha Condé, for a period of one year.
It will be the very first time that Rwanda will lead the Union since the latter was launched in 2002.
According to Prudence Sebahizi, Chief Technical Advisor and Head of the CFTA Unit at the African Union Commission's Department of Trade and Industry, during the last six months that followed last July's AU Summit, "tremendous progress has been made in a bid to establish the CFTA."
Sebahizi said: "On a positive note, the final draft Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area and the protocol on trade in services are ready for consideration by the Summit of Heads of State when they meet towards the end of this month.
"It should however be noted that the other two protocols on trade in goods and dispute settlement mechanism will only be ready for approval by March 2018."
President Issoufou Mahamadou of Niger - and Champion of the CFTA - undertook political consultations on the 90 percent level of ambition of liberalization on trade in goods and he is expected to report to his peers the outcomes of the consultations.
According to Sebahizi, the seventh and eighth meetings of CFTA-negotiating forum were held and both of them "had positive outcomes" that were considered by the fourth meeting of the African Union Ministers for Trade.
The seventh meeting was held in Addis Ababa from October 2 to 7, 2017 while the eighth was held in Abuja, Nigeria, from November 20 to 25. The fourth meeting of the AU Ministers for Trade took place in Niamey, Niger on December 1 and 2.
Given the already overloaded agenda of the upcoming January Summit, Sebahizi says, it would be advisable to organize an Extra-Ordinary Summit that will be dedicated to the signing ceremony of the historic agreement establishing the CFTA and the three Protocols.
Game changer for Africa
The CFTA will be a game changer for Africa and its people, said Sebahizi.
"It is an agreement that will bring tremendous economic impact to African people and the continent at large," he said, noting that today, intra-African trade is just 15 percent of its total trade, compared with 19 percent intra-regional trade in Latin America, 51 percent in Asia, 54 percent in North America and 70 percent in Europe.
According to Sebahizi, this low level of intra-African trade can change if Africa effectively addresses supply side constraints and weak productive capacities, infrastructural bottlenecks, trade information networks, access to finance for traders and other economic operators, trade facilitation and trade in services and free movement of people for cross border trade.
"The concluded agreement establishing the CFTA provides for rules that will govern the movement of merchandise and services across the continent as well as an institutional framework that will govern the implementation of those rules," Sebahizi noted.
The CFTA will create a wider market of 55 African states under a pan-African free trade area comprising more than 1.2 billion people.
This will induce investments, result in pooling of African resources to enhance structural transformation and the development of regional value chains, Sebahizi said.
The CFTA negotiations were launched in June 2015 and since then there have been seven rounds of negotiations, with the eighth and final round done in Abuja, last November.