Just days after Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa, finally agreed to sign the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, Benin, which was undecided, has followed suit.
The AfCFTA, which will allow freer movement of goods, services and people within the continent, became a binding international legal instrument on May 30, 2019. At the time, 52 out of the continent’s 55 countries had signed the agreement with the exception of Benin, Eritrea, and Nigeria.
Nigeria, which had chosen not to join the zone due to concerns raised by local businesses, announced this week that it will sign the agreement at an AU summit in Niger.
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The continent subsequently awaited the decision of the relatively small economy of Benin and the closed economy of Eritrea, which were then yet to join the free trade zone.
On Friday, however, Benin, which had not given any official reason for its silence on the deal, finally agreed to sign the agreement.
“Officially confirmed! Benin to Sign #AfCFTA Agreement during Niamey Extraordinary Summit & become 54th signatory State. Good development! One more signatory state before all 55 @_AfricanUnion Member States are signatories. One African Market in formation.,” said the African Union Commissioner for Trade and Industry, Amb. Albert Muchanga.
Eritrea is currently the only African country yet to append its signature to the deal.
Africa’s iconic free trade market would be launched on July 7, 2019, and is the single largest free trade market agreement in the world since the formation of the World Trade Organization.
It’s been over a year since 44 countries first signed the consolidated text of the Agreement in the Rwandan capital Kigali to enable the long-awaited economic integration and movement of goods and persons across member states.
The AfCFTA will create a single continental market for goods and services; enhance free movement of business persons and investments; enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level through exploiting opportunities for full-scale production.
It will also enforce the establishment of the Continental Customs Union and the African customs union, expedite the regional and continental integration processes and exploit opportunities for scale production, continental market access and better reallocation of resources.
With the commitment of all countries, the AfCFTA could bring together the 1.2 billion African population with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of more than $2.5 trillion to remove tariffs on 90 per cent of goods, with 10 per cent of “sensitive items” to be phased in later.
This agreement was first introduced in January 2012 during the 18th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The member states adopted the decision to establish the Continental Free Trade Area by 2017.
The African Union has failed since the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963 to implement integration mechanisms and recommendations that will unite the continent.
Several meetings have been held over a long period of time to realize that dream but to no avail. 44 years after the attempt to create a Union Government during the founding of the OAU, the opportunity came up once again at the 9th Ordinary Session of the newly formed African Union (AU) in Accra, Ghana in 2007.
The agenda was to debate the creation of the Union Government that will lead to the formation of the United States of Africa as adopted by a 2006 study. The study proposed a single African military force, a single currency and a single passport for Africans.
The heated debate in Accra failed to institute the Union Government but the heads of state agreed to accelerate political and economic integration, strengthen the organs and institutions of the AU and then set a timeframe to establish a Union Government with the involvement of Africans and the diaspora.
Since then, teams have been set up in 2007, 2008 and 2009 to review the recommendations and give the green light for the transformation of the African Union Commission into the African Union Authority to pave way for the Union Government which will be led by a president, vice president and secretaries.
All the teams have since deferred their assignments and the dream of a United States of Africa still lingers. However, successful implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement will be a step in the right direction.