The African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) Agreement is a bold framework that stands to define the future of relations between the continent and the rest of the world, President Paul Kagame has said.
The Head of State, who is also currently serving as the African Union chairperson, made the remarks yesterday while speaking at the launch of the New Africa Dialogue organised by the U.S-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Also in attendance was Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, CSIS Honorary Trustee Othman Benjelloun, former US Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger as well as leaders in the private and public sectors.
The Centre is a bipartisan, non-profit policy research organisation dedicated to providing strategic insights and policy solutions to help decision-makers chart a course toward a better world.
Talking about CFTA, which was signed in March 2018 in Kigali, the President described it as a sign of new political reality in Africa that is likely to transform not only the continent but also its relations with the rest of the world.
"This is a historic step. It will transform trade within our continent, while requiring the world to relate to the fastest-growing continent, as a single bloc, for trade purposes. But this agreement should be understood in a wider context," he said.
He explained that the trade agreement "heralds a new political reality in Africa" given that it was also followed by the signing of an agreement on the free movement of people within Africa.
The President emphasised that, much as the relationship between the United States and Africa should focus more on business and trade, the former should also continue its engagement with the continent on democratic values by putting into consideration African countries' specific contexts.
He said that political structures in Africa are often evaluated against abstract notions of process, "almost on auto-pilot" without reference either to the objective outcomes, or to the views of the citizens directly concerned.
That has to change in the relations between the USA and Africa as both regions of the world have changed since the end of the cold war, Kagame said.
"When innovative forms of democratic stability are undermined, nobody's interest is served. The tendency to elevate abstractions about democratic process, into a precondition for engagement, rather than a basis for discussion, is counterproductive," he said.
He added: "Business and trade should rightly constitute, the day-to-day subject matter, of enhanced relations between Africa and the United States. But it would be a mistake to avoid frank exchanges about values."
With both Africa and the USA going through changes over the last few decades, Kagame called for both African and American leaders to "rethink how Africa and the United States relate to one another".
CSIS is one of the world's top international policy institutions focused on defence and security by doing regional studies on transnational challenges ranging from energy and trade to global development and economic integration among other issues.
President Kagame, who is in New York to attend the 73rd United Nations General Assembly, later held meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, and Estonia President Kersti Kaljulaid.