9 March 2018

Rwanda: Road to CFTA - Trade Ministers Review Draft Agreement

Ministers for Trade and Commerce from across the African continent are convening in Kigali to review the draft African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) Agreement ahead of its signing later this month.

The ministers' meeting follows a meeting of technical experts from trade and justice departments of AU member states, where the draft underwent the final negotiating stages.

The experts meeting aimed to ensure that the draft is well aligned in all AU official languages, and also ensure the legal scrubbing of the document.

Prudence Sebahizi, the Chief Technical Advisor and Head of the CFTA Unit at the AU Commission's Department of Trade and Industry, told The New Times that the ministerial gathering will also review protocol for dispute resolution.

"The technical experts ensured that the content of the text is maintained as was negotiated. The package of legal instruments which include; agreement establishing CFTA, protocol on trade of goods, protocol on trade of services as well as protocol of settlement of disputes will be packaged to be approved by trade ministers," Sebahizi said.

The ongoing ministers' meeting will see the review of 250-page draft agreement that seeks to create the largest free-trade area in the world.

The agreement is expected to significantly increase intra-Africa trade.

At the meeting countries are expected to cite issues they do not agree with.

Even as they move in to open up trade across the continent, experts involved in the negotiations said they were keen to ensuring it was also in the best interests of their countries economies.

Countries interests include protection of emerging industries, and quality of products entering.

African Union Commissioner for Trade and Industry Albert Muchanga said the agreement, once signed, will ease intra-Africa trade by increasing openness.

He said this is a sure step towards realising integration and increased industralisation which will be facilitated by trade.

Rwanda's Minister for Trade and Commerce Vincent Munyeshaka said that there are very few contentious issues at the moment which will be easily resolved during the ministerial meeting.

"Let's focus on what unifies us and not what divides us. We may have different approaches on how to get there, hence the need to agree on the draft agreement," he said.

Once the ministers of trade have reviewed and approved the draft, it will be submitted to Justice Ministers who will review the legal consistency.

"The Ministers for Justice will submit it to ministers of Foreign Affairs ahead of the signing," Sebahizi said.

The agreement has been tailored to ensure that it is not in contravention of any international trade rules and is compatible with existing trade agreements in the eight regional economic zones.

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