SA President Cyril Ramaphosa said the coming into effect of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) was a milestone that fulfilled a dream crafted by the founders of the Organisation of African Union (OAU) 60 years ago when they conceptualised an integrated Africa.
Ramaphosa made his remarks at the conclusion of his working visit to Niger, where he attended the 12th Extraordinary Summit of the African Union (AU) on Sunday and Monday. The OAU transformation into the AU was adopted in Lusaka, Zambia, in 2001.
The Niger summit marked the entry into force of AfCFTA and formally launched the operational phase of the African Internal Market.
The Presidency said in a statement on Tuesday: “President Ramaphosa anticipates the agreement will catapult the economies of many African countries onto a higher growth trajectory and says South Africa stands to significantly benefit from being part of the world’s largest single market encompassing 55 countries with a combined population of 1.2 billion people and a combined GDP of USD 3.2 trillion.
“The president sees the implementation of the agreement as a platform for African countries to trade among themselves and reap the benefits of the tariff-free area.
“One of the key spin-offs is expected to be greater focus and urgency for infrastructure development across the continent to support economic activities.”
The Presidency said that while at the summit, Ramaphosa participated in the high-level meeting of the AU on Libya and the first mid-year coordination meeting of the AU and the regional economic communities.
Ramaphosa also held a number of bilateral meetings with his counterparts including Zimbabwe leader Emmerson Mnangagwa; Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi; Niger leader Mahamadou Issoufou, and Egypt president and chairperson of the AU, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
During the visit, Ramaphosa was supported by International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, and Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel.
Spokesperson to the president, Khusela Diko, said Ramaphosa returned to South Africa on Monday.
Pledging its full support for the agreement, UN deputy secretary-general Amina Mohammed confirmed to the AU that the UN was ready to work in a partnership with African countries on AfCFTA, which once implemented, would make it the world’s biggest trade bloc since the establishment of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1974.
Mohammed said in a statement released by the Economic Commission for Africa office at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa that the UN was already working with 16 African governments to develop opportunities created by the agreement and that the number would be increased by next year.
“We are committed to working with African institutions to mobilise the resources that will be required for full implementation of the AfCFTA. In the first instance, the African Regional Integration Trust Fund will support countries to mobilise resources to finance regional integration,” said Mohammed.
She explained that the UN would work with the AU to coordinate and leverage complementary funding sources from the African Development Bank’s Africa50 Fund to the African Union’s Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa, and China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
“This will help to ensure that trade policy is both gender-sensitive and responds to demographic realities, thereby contributing more fully to sustainable development,” the UN deputy chief said.
“Trade can contribute to either widening or closing inclusion and gender gaps, depending on how the process is managed. So we are also working with governments to counterbalance the distributional and gender-differentiated effects of trade liberalisation.”