The African Union chairperson, President Paul Kagame, has said signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (CFTA) and more intra-Afra trade will not lessen business with the rest of the world.
Kagame made the remarks yesterday at the CFTA Business summit, held under the theme 'Leveraging the Power of Business to Drive Africa's Integration', that took place in Kigali.
"Increasing intra-African trade does not mean doing less business with the rest of the world. On the contrary as we trade more among ourselves African firms will become bigger, more specialised, and more competitive internationally," he said.
The president expressed concern over the low levels of Africa's internal trade while other trading blocs around the world had three or four times higher.
"Less than 20 per cent of Africa's trade is internal, meaning from one African country to another. However, in the world's richest regional trading blocs, the level of internal trade is three or four times higher," he said.
CFTA is expected to raise intra-Africa trade by about 52.3 per cent by 2020, according to estimates by United Nations Economic Commission in Africa (UNECA).
The agreement, the President said is ideal for the continent in multiple aspects, including creating unity in the continent.
"The African Continental Free Trade Area symbolises our progress towards the ideal of African unity, but that is not the only reason why it is so historic. This agreement is about trade in goods and services. These are the kinds of complex products that drive high-income economies. African workers adding value in Africa. Services offered by African professionals using the latest technologies. Manufactured goods that are Made in Africa," he said.
The task to increase trade levels in Africa, Kagame said will go beyond signing the agreement, to actualise impact and realise ambitions that go beyond the CFTA to other agendas set by the African Union that aim at reinforcing the integration spirit.
"Success on free trade shows that we are capable of achieving much more together. This is not the time to sit back and relax. The right place to start is moving rapidly to accomplish the other flagship projects in the first Ten-Year Implementation Plan of the African Union's Agenda 2063," Kagame said.
Other tasks to follow the signing include the ratification of the agreement by member states through respective organs.
"The agreement needs to be ratified by Member States. The speed at which this occurs depends on us. Let's do our part to communicate the rationale and the urgency of the African Continental Free Trade Area to our parliamentarians, civil society organisations, and chambers of commerce, as well as to the media," said the Head of State.
"Implementation will mean reform of procedures and rules at the national level. This won't happen overnight. It will be a process requiring dialogue and flexibility," he explained.
Learning from the CFTA agreement, he said the continent should also maintain private sector involvement in future agreements to make sure that the continent makes the most of such opportunities.
"The full involvement of the private sector is needed more than ever before. The purpose of today's forum is to discuss how to make the most of the new opportunities we are creating for ourselves. From now on, the clear wish of everyone is that consultation between business and political leadership, at all levels, becomes a continuous feature of continental deliberations," he said.
Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou who is spearheading the agreement's negotiation and adoption process termed it as a historic agreement, stating that when implemented, it will undo decades of division in Africa which has weakened the continent.
South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa said the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement is not about South Africa or any individual country; but it is about the whole continent.
CFTA is a deal that will benefit small and large countries and businesses, everyone stands to gain, he said.
The Business Forum attracted the participation of key policymakers, high-level government officials, private sector leaders, civil society, parliamentarians, development cooperation partners, academics, regional economic communities, researchers and members of the media.
The agreement is set to be signed today at an extraordinary African Union Summit.