Africa Ministers of Trade have approved an agreement to give local traders access to the continental trade market, trade Principal Secretary Chris Kiptoo said.
Describing the move as a big achievement for Africa’s regional integration efforts, Kiptoo, on his official twitter account said the agreement is now awaiting approval by Africa heads of state.
“Today in Kigali, Africa ministers of trade approved the agreement establishing the Africa Continental Free Trade Area expected to be signed during Extra Ordinary Summit of AU on 21 March 2018,” he said.
The ministerial approval came six years after the decision to form the free trade area was adopted during the 18th ordinary session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union held in January 2012 in Ethiopia.
Cabinet Secretary Industry, Trade and cooperatives Adan Mohamed led a Kenyan delegation to the two day conference which aimed at adopting the agreement which has detailed legal measure on how the trade will be practiced.
Some of the protocols and Annexes in the agreement include Protocol on Trade in Goods, Protocol on Trade in Services, and Protocol on Dispute Settlement.
“The AFCFTA will bring together 55 African countries with a combined population of more than 1.2 billion people, with a vibrant and growing middle class, and a combined gross domestic product of more than Sh344.08 trillion ,” Mohamed said
According to a statement from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and cooperatives, the agreement, once signed by the Africa heads of state, will improve the regulatory framework of trade in Africa.
It will lead to a reduction of tariff obstacles such as duties and surcharges and non tariff obstacles such as licensing rules and quotas.
“The ultimate, apart from creating single liberalized market, is to enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level, enhance value addition of products and exploit economies of scale and optimum utilization of resource,” the Ministry said.
According to the African Union, the establishment of the Continental Free Trade Area provides a comprehensive framework to pursue a developmental regional strategy alongside Boosting Intra-African Trade (BIAT) action plan which targets to double intra-African trade flows by January 2022.
For Kenya to benefit fully from this trade opportunity, United Nations Conference on Trade and and Development -UNCTAD has advised that it needs to develop its internal trade capacity.
“To do this, they will need to strengthen their internal negotiations with key stakeholders to ensure that national policies and trade negotiation strategies reflect their interests. This will require regional trade policies that are inclusive, gender sensitive and well-articulated by their national trade negotiators,” UNCTAD said in a February report dubbed From Regional Economic Communities to a Continental Free Trade Area.