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A.U. AfCTA SUMMIT IN NIAMEY, NIGER

 Main Focus of Summit to Be on African Continental Free Trade Agreement

The extraordinary summit of the African Union scheduled to take place in Niamey, Niger, West Africa early next week, July 8, 2019, will focus primarily on Africa’s budding economic integration. The conference will be specifically dedicated to the launch of the operational phase of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTA) and its operational instruments.

Bringing together most  African heads-of-state and government, the Niamey summit will be held on the margins of the inaugural session of the mid-year Coordination Meeting of the African Union and the Regional Economic Communities (8th July). It now replaces the previous mid-year AU Summit, as decided within the framework of the ongoing African Union (AU) reforms.

Under the direction of the continental bloc, the meeting is set to launch a number of critical operational instruments for the trade agreement, including several portals on rules of origin, tariff concessions, monitoring and elimination of non-tariff barriers, digital payment and cleaning system and the African trade observatory dashboard.

The Executive Council of the AU (Ministers of Foreign Affairs) has already began its ordinary session today, Thursday, 4th till tomorrow, 5th of July  (prior to the main summit) to look at important documents on  AU reforms, the 2020 budget of the Union, and legal papers of the new African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), among other things.

AfCFTA is an agreement which seeks to eradicate trade tariffs between member states of the AU, thus enabling the creation of a proper market of around 1.2 billion people with a combined GDP of more than $2.2 trillion.

In addition, the highly ambitious continental trade agreement seeks to implement a number of key programs. To begin with it aims to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons, products and investments, in order to pave the way for accelerating the establishment of a continental customs union.

Secondly, it seeks to expand intra-Africa trade through better harmonization and coordination of trade liberalization, facilitation regimes and instruments across the continent. It also plans to resolve the challenges of multiple and overlapping memberships and expedite the regional and continental integration processes.

Lastly, the trade agreement sorts out ways to enhance competitiveness at both the enterprise and industry levels through exploiting opportunities for large scale production, continental market access and better reallocation of resources in Africa.

Despite all these ambitious plans, experts believe that for the trade agreement to be actualized, the African continent needs to swiftly address non-tariff barriers, for instance the infrastructure backlogs, border corruption, poor communication means among other things. A big question remains on whether Africa as a continent, conducts enough trade among its member states even as the various independent national economies continue to be largely dominated by external trade with more economically advanced countries in other continents through exportation of raw materials.

It is interesting to note that, Africa’s largest national economy of Nigeria in West Africa, has finally changed heart and agreed to sign the trade agreement, considering that it had earlier opposed AfCFTA.   Critics say that the decision may have been reached due to the country’s recent economic recession.

Nigeria’s re-entry into the continental trade pact leaves only Benin and Eritrea as the only AU member states yet to follow suit since almost all the other signatories had come on board by 30th May 2019. 

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