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Continental free trade agreement gets more support as AGRF19 enters last day

AGRF 2020

September 5, 2019

The removal of trade barriers preventing Africa countries from selling to each other will fast track the growth of the continent’s economy. 

This was the message by leaders at an AGRF plenary session titled: The Great Debate Getting Value From A Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA)

The African CFTA (AfCFTA) entered into force in May this year after being ratified by 54 out of Africa’s 55 countries. The AfCFTA is the largest in the world in terms of participating countries since the formation of the World Trade Organization.

Eritrea is the only country that is yet to sign the AfCFTA, whose primary objective is to create a single continental market for goods and services, with the free movement of business persons and investments. 

If all goes according to plan, the AfCFTA will accelerate the establishment of the Continental Customs Union and the African customs union.

The plenary session debated the importance of implementing a continental free trade area in view of the barriers to adoption. The session also purposed to detail the benefits of a free trade area offer to farmers and agriculture stakeholders. Former Benin Prime Minister H.E. Lionel Zinsou stood in full support of the AfCFTA noting that the opening up of borders allowing African countries easy trade with each other would accelerate the continent’s economic growth.  H.E. Zinsou affirmed that the removal of domestic barriers is important for taming the volatility of prices for agricultural produce in the continent, and ultimately stabilizing the purchasing power of its people. 

“When you remove internal barriers to trade, you even out the business environment in a way that reduces wastages. This is because surpluses in some places can be easily moved to areas of shortage,” said H.E. Zinsou.

“The removal of internal customs barriers, in effect, immediately improve the purchasing power of all Africans by equalising the conditions of the market.”

H.E. Chileshe Kapwepwe, Secretary-General of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), affirmed his support for the AfCFTA, saying that the integration process Africa is pursuing was grounded on lessons from other parts of the world.

“We are advancing faster by learning from other communities in the world who have undergone similar processes – like the European Union,” said H.E. Kapwepwe.

“One of these lessons is that the successful implementation of free trade areas, largely depend on the capacity of the institutions involved. Thankfully, we have several economic blocs in Africa, which the AfCFTA can be built on,” he added. 

President and CEO of the ONE Campaign, H.E Gayle Smith, went on to note that the AfCFTA will achieve the most gains through public education. 

“The CFTA may not achieve its intended purposes if people do not understand what it is. It has been confirmed that citizens can fasttrack the achievement of cross national goals by pushing governments towards action. However, this can only be achieved if they are given the facts early on,” said H.E. Smith.

“Smallholder farmers, for instance, need to know that the AfCFTA is important for their businesses because it allows them to easily pursue beneficial markets outside their countries whenever there is an overproduction, something that can be profitably achieved through aggregation of produce,” she added. The debate was the last item on the third day of proceedings at the AGRF, which has seen more than 2300 international delegates stay in Accra, Ghana to chart the way forward for the future of Africa’s agriculture under the theme Grow Digital: Leveraging the Digital Transformation to Drive Sustainable Food Systems in Africa.