Business leaders have called on African nations to fast-track the ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) signed in Kigali on Wednesday.
The deal was endorsed by 44 African countries during the 10th Extraordinary African Union Summit that was attended by 19 presidents.
Stephen Ruzibiza, the chief executive of Rwanda's Private Sector Federation (PSF), said the business community can't wait to see the intra-Africa deal come into force.
"It is a huge step in the right direction," he told The New Times yesterday. "It's a step that has been lacking for so long. Now that signing is done, the next step should be implementation, and we hope that countries will expedite the ratification process."
Alexis Nsengumuremyi, the Chairperson of Rwanda Manufacturers Association and head of PSF Chamber of Industries, said the agreement speaks to renewed African unity and leaders' commitment to the continent's prosperity.
"The agreement in itself is a miracle," Nsengumuremyi said. "Africa has potential to become the most powerful economic bloc in the world but we are still held back by the colonial borders, which I think we are overcoming through this agreement. We request the African leaders to now do the necessary and complete this process."
He added: "For so long Africa has been playing catch-up with the rest of the world yet, in actual sense, we are endowed with more resources than those that are more prosperous than us.
"Look at China, India, Korea, United States and Europe. There is nothing special about them but how they have consolidated their effort for growth. This is the time that Africa has been waiting for."
For the CFTA to come into force, it has to be ratified by at least 22 nations. The agreement commits members to remove tariffs on 90 per cent of goods from other signatory countries.
Speaking during the AU summit, Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, expressed optimism that the treaty will be coming into force before the end of the year.
On Wednesday, 44 countries signed the African Continental Free Trade Area instrument, 27 signed the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and Right to Residence, while 43 backed the idea of creating one African market through endorsing the Kigali Declaration.
The trade agreement envisions a continental market of 1.2 billion people, with a combined Gross Domestic Product of more than $3.4 trillion.
Experts have said that the trade treaty is set to result in growth of intra-African trade by over 52 per cent by 2022. Today, intra-African trade hovers around 14 per cent.