Private sector lobbies in Africa's six regional trading blocs have formed the African Business Council, a continental umbrella body to spearhead the business agenda for the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
The council -- with its headquarters at the African Union offices in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia -- has been carved out of the six regional trading blocs, these are the East African Community; Southern African Development Community (Sadc); Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa); Southern African Customs Union; Economic Community of West African States, and the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa.
According to EABC Chief Executive, Peter Mathuki, the council has been long in the making. "We are in discussion with the AfCFTA secretariat with the aim of strengthening the role and mandate of the private sector in driving the continent's business agenda through the six regional blocs."
"During the last AU summit in Niger, EABC proposed that we needed to have this kind of structure. We then co-ordinated with other regions to form the African Business Council," said Dr Mathuki.
"We are advocating for market access of EAC products and that is why we are spearheading the formation of the African Business Council," said Nick Nesbitt, chairman of the East African Business Council.
"EABC is committed to empowering the business community in the region with knowledge and skills to tap into opportunities provided by the continental market," he added.
The commencement of the AfCFTA presents an opportunity to boost intra-African trade and strengthen regional value chains in the EAC region.
The EAC, Sadc and Comesa agreed to establish an expanded Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) in 2008, with a combined population of 625 million people and an aggregate GDP of $1 trillion.
"However, the TFTA Agreement is still in the process of being signed and ratified by the tripartite member states. Once in place, it is expected to reduce trade barriers among African countries by reducing export and import duties and waiving visa requirements, an added advantage to the AfCFTA," said Mr Nesbitt.
In a recent meeting with the private sector in Nairobi, the secretary-general of the AfCFTA, Wamkele Keabetswe Mene, challenged the region's business community to take full advantage of the AfCFTA.
He added that African countries have collectively undertaken commitments to liberalise substantially all trade by eliminating tariffs on 97 per cent of tariff lines -- over a specified period of time.
"The remaining three percent of the tariff lines -- in fact the Exclusion List -- are those products on which no reduction in tariffs would be proposed," he said.
The AfCFTA Secretariat is currently in receipt of 41 tariff offers/concessions, representing 75 percent of African Union membership.
Apart from the Constitutive Act of the African Union, the AfCFTA is the first agreement to quickly enter into force in the history of the union, showing the need for trading that has been identified in the continent while also emphasising on the political will of African Union member states.