UN vows to deepen Africa’s trade integration, implement free trade agreement

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) on Friday expressed its keen intention to deepen Africa’s trade integration and effectively implement the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement.

“The number of members that have ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement is approaching 40 with the continent’s leadership showing immense political will towards achieving its aspirations,” the UN agency said in a statement on Friday.

The UNECA is working closely with the International Trade Center (ITC), the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and a selection of independent trade experts with the financial support of the European Union (EU) to support the implementation of the AfCFTA across the continent, it said.

The statement came shortly after AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry Albert Muchanga said during an Invest in Africa webinar on Wednesday that five members, namely Zambia, Tanzania, Somalia, Algeria and Morocco, had indicated their intention to ratify the agreement soon, joining the 35 members that have already ratified and deposited their instruments.

The agreement entered into force on May 30, 2019, a year and one month after the treaty was signed, after having been ratified by 22 members — the minimum number required for the treaty to take effect.

Trading under the AfCFTA began on Jan. 1, 2021 following a postponement last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The treaty has been signed by 54 out of the 55 members, leaving Eritrea as the sole outsider to date.

Muchanga also attributed the achievement to “a lot of very high political commitment from the heads of state and government.”

According to figures from the UNECA, the continental free trade pact aims to create the world’s largest free trade area with the potential that brings together more than 1.2 billion people with a combined GDP worth more than 2.5 trillion U.S. dollars.