What Africa’s free trade pact needs

Thursday September 23 2021
Industrial pic

East African Community Secretary General Peter Mathuki speaks during a past event. He has challenged the bloc’s member states to invest in industrial parks in a bid to boost economic growth in the region. He argued that the states were not competitors and should work together instead of competing. PHOTO | FILE

By Zephania Ubwani

Arusha. Political goodwill is key for the smooth implementation and enforcement of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Governments have to spearhead the process through sensitizing the citizens on how they can benefit from the pact.

“Africa should speak in one voice. AfCFTA will ultimately result in economic growth,” said East African Community (EAC) secretary general Peter Mathuki. He stressed that implementation of the agreement should engage the private sector, the civil society as well as other groups. “This will ensure the agreement is embraced and its gains trickle down to Africans,” he said during a visit to AfCFTA secretariat in Accra, Ghana.

Citizen sensitization and regular capacity building activities at national and regional levels were key in the drive.

With a promising market of around 1.3 billion consumers and a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of $3.4 trillion, AfCFTA promises to unlock many opportunities beneficial to Africa.

The agreement, so far ratified by 41 African Union (AU) member states including Tanzania, came into operation in January this year. Dr Mathuki’s visit coincided with the meeting of heads of regional economic communities (RECs) on the implementation of the pact.


AfCFTA is the largest trade agreement by composition of countries enjoined since the formation of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The pact is set to open up the African market to trade freely, boost intra-African trade and trigger structural transformation that would reduce poverty.

Dr Mathuki, however, emphasized the development of a simplified trade regime for AfCFTA and development of standard operating procedures at the borders.

“The scorecard of the achievements of AfCFTA will be on increased trade and investments in the region,” he pointed out.

AfCFTA secretary general Wamkele Mene stressed the need for close collaboration between the state parties, RECs and strategic partners in the endeavour.

He said RECs were “the building blocks” of the trade arrangements “and thus we are keen in collaborating with them all”.

Also key was the involvement of the private sector which he described as a strong pillar and catalyst for industrialization in the continent.

Tanzania ratified the pact last month, joining four other members of the EAC bloc: Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.

Government officials say the pact will serve as a platform that will raise Tanzania’s trade with Africa which currently stands at 15 percent.

Over 80 percent of Tanzania foreign trade is with countries outside Africa, according to available statistics.

The East African Business Council (EABC), for its part, said the projected 3.6 percent growth for the EAC this year would boost implementation of AfCFTA.

Eight RECs represented at the meeting included the EAC, Arab Maghreb Union and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa).

Others were the Community of Sahel-Saharan States ( CEN-SAD) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).

Other RECs represented were the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) and the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc).