African Continental Free Trade Agreement Secretariat
Guillermo Arenas is an economist in the Department of Trade and Regional Integration (ETIRI) at the World Bank. His area of expertise covers various aspects of the international economy and public order, including trade policy, export competitiveness and impact analysis. « It will offer us the vehicle to be more modern and more sophisticated between us; it will provide a great opportunity to harness the wealth and resources of our great continent for the good of all our people; And there will be protection in our relations with other trading blocs, » the president said. The Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement will create the largest free trade area in the world in terms of the number of participating countries. The pact connects 1.3 billion people in 55 countries for a total gross domestic product (GDP) of $3.4 trillion. It has the potential to lift 30 million people out of extreme poverty, but achieving its full potential will depend on the introduction of meaningful political reforms and trade facilitation. Wamkele Mene, AfCFTA`s first secretary general, said the agreement provided An opportunity for Africa to address the major challenges of trade and economic development: market fragmentation, small economies, over-reliance on primary raw material exports, a narrow export base, a lack of export specialization, underdeveloped regional value chains and high regulatory and customs barriers. The African Development Bank group provided the AU with an institutional grant of $5 million for the establishment of the AfCFTA secretariat, located in a state-of-the-art office complex in the central business district of the Ghanaian capital. At the summit, Benin and Nigeria signed the agreement, so Eritrea is the only African state not to be part of the agreement; Since then, Eritrea has applied to join the agreement. Gabon and Equatorial Guinea also tabled their ratifications at the summit. At the time of launch, there were 27 states that had ratified the agreement.
   Eritrea did not sign because of tensions with Ethiopia, but after the 2018 Eritrea-Ethiopia Summit, the AU Trade and Industry Commissioner now expects Eritrea to sign the agreement.  The world`s largest trade area for participating countries since the creation of the World Trade Organization. Most AU member states have signed the agreement. Benin, Botswana, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria and Zambia did not sign the agreement.  Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was particularly reluctant to join if it against Nigerian entrepreneurship and Nigerian industry.  On 7 July 2019, Nigeria and Benin pledged to sign free trade with Africa at the 12th Special Session of the Association`s Assembly on ACFTA; Eritrea is the only country among the 55 member states of the African Union that has not signed the agreement.    The 12th African Union Extraordinary Meeting on AfCFTA was convened to bring the new agreement into its operational phase, which was held in Niamey on 7 July 2019.  « Today we are the largest free trade area in the world since the creation of the World Trade Organization and we must make it count, » the president said.