The African Continental Free Trade Area will enter into force during the next African Union Summit slated for Niamey, Niger, in July.
Dr Halima Noor Abdi, a senior official of the African Union Commission (AUC), said 20 member-states have ratified the agreement and deposited the instruments with the commission, adding that she is optimistic that the remaining two would do so soon.
"Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone, who ratified the AfCFTA this month, have not yet deposited instruments for the ratification at the AUC," she said.
The AfCFTA brings together a continental single market, which is expected to increase intra-African trade by 52 per cent come 2022, remove tariffs on 90 per cent of goods, liberalise services and tackle other barriers to intra-African trade.
Dr Abdi spoke on the sidelines of the Consultative Workshop on Data for the continental agreement in Arusha last week.
The AfCFTA will come into force 30 days after the 22nd ratification has been deposited with the AUC. Other AU member states may accede to the agreement after it comes into force.
Dr Abdi said the countries that had until last week ratified and deposited their instruments with the Commission were Chad, Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, eSwatini, Ethiopia Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Togo and Uganda.
"African countries should not hesitate to ratify the agreement for nations that trade to each other actually trade out of poverty," she said.
"The agreement is not only about opening the markets; it also comprises trade facilitation, Customs co-operation and capacity building," Dr Abdi said.
While Kenya was the first EAC partner state to sign and ratify the agreement; Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan have signed the agreement, but are still dragging their feet on ratifying it.
Save for Benin, Eritrea and Nigeria, all the remaining 52 AU member states have signed the agreement. Nigeria is currently engaged in impact and readiness assessment for the AfCFTA following a seven-month nationwide sensitisation and consultation exercise to assess the potential risks and benefits of signing it.
The four-day consultative workshop in Arusha attracted trade and Customs officials from member states of the Southern African regional economic communities, namely Comesa, EAC, Igad and Sadc.
"AUC and development partners felt it important to build capacity and provide expertise to delegations from AU member states," said the chairman of the AfCFTA negotiating forum, Alexander Rubanga from Uganda.
Experts from the World Trade Organisation, International Trade Centre, World Bank and Unctd attended the GIZ-supported workshop to equip trade and Customs officials with the information needed to implement the agreement.
Willie Shumba, the AUC senior expert and advisor on Customs and Continental Free Trade Area Unit, said the officials received extensive training on some elements of data transposition and alignment of data with the MFN applied tariff.
The MFN (Most Favoured Nation) in international economic relations and international politics is a status or level of treatment accorded by one state to another in international trade.
"MFN tariffs are what countries promise to impose on imports from other members of the WTO, unless the country is part of a preferential trade agreement such as a free trade area or customs union," Mr Shumba explained.