Kigali — "With the signature of the Kigali Declaration for the Launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area, Africa makes a giant stride forward in continental integration, in the pan-African vision, and in the development of our continent", said Vera Songwe, the Executive Secretary of the ECA.
Speaking during the official signing ceremony today in Kigali, Ms. Songwe noted that this historical moment shows the resolve of African leaders to bring the continent's diversity together and make the flagship project of the African Union Agenda 2063 a reality. She thanked all UN agencies for their support and said that the ECA was "honoured to be associated with this great and historic moment".
During the 18th Extraordinary Session of the African Union Summit held in Kigali today, 44 African countries signed the AfCFTA, while a total of 50 signed either the agreement or the Kigali declaration underscoring their commitment to the agreement,which aims at doubling intra-African trade by removing non-tariff and tariff barriers on goods and services. Moreover, 27 countries also signed theseparate African Union Protocol on Free Movement of People, which complements the AfCFTA by providing for visa-free travel, the right of residency and the right of business or professional establishment, for citizens between signatory countries.
During his key note address, President Kagame of Rwanda, Chairperson of the African Union, said, "the AfCFTA [was] the culmination of a vision set forth nearly 40 years ago in the Lagos plan of action adopted in 1980", for a continent-wide market. He also recognized the preeminent role of the regional economic communities in fostering African integration.
Also speaking during the historical ceremony attended by 19 heads of state, and more prime ministers and foreign ministers, Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, thanked the ECA for its support during the more than two years of negotiations. He went on to say "Africa is a sleeping giant that can't wake up if the continent is divided. It's time to accelerate the pace of integration, as international competition leaves no room for the weak", and he called upon African Member States to also sign the Protocol on the free movement of persons, enabling the creation of an African passport.
The ECA Executive Secretary also urged Member States to promptly ratify the AfCFTA, recalling that the agreement will only enter into force once a sufficient number of countries have ratified the agreement.
Likewise, the ECA Chief said the signing of the AfCFTA only marks the end of the first phase of the AfCFTA negotiations, insisting on the need for effective implementation. The AfCFTA Country Business Index launched by the ECA during the Summit will be one of the tools to keep track of implementation, through periodic surveys of business opinions on the real impact of the agreement on trade.
Ms. Songwe also reaffirmed the necessity to leave no one behind, as defined in the Sustainable Development Goals, by making sure everyone benefits from the new opportunities created by the AfCFTA.
According to the ECA, among the key beneficiaries will be small and medium sized entreprises, accounting for 80 per cent of the region's businesses; women, who represent 70% of the informal cross-border traders; and the youth, who will be able to find new employment opportunities.
ECA estimates that AfCFTA has the potential both to boost intra-African trade by 52.3% by eliminating import duties, and to double this trade if non-tariff barriers are also reduced.