The twenty-second ratification that would have paved way for operationalisation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement had not come when African Ministers of Finance on Tuesday, concluded their Ministerial segment of the UN Economic Commission for Africa’s (ECA) flagship Conference, in Marrakech, Morocco.
Though the agreement’s ratification was not on the agenda during deliberations, delegates kept raising the matter.
Some officials, over and over again, deliberately and courteously prodded countries that have not ratified - especially the host country - to make an announcement during the conference.
One such announcement was made, by Ethiopia.
Ethiopia ratified the agreement end last week, before the ministerial conference began, bringing to 21 the number of countries that ratified.
Twenty-two ratifications are necessary for the agreement to enter into force.
The new chair of the Bureau, Morocco’s Chorfi Zouhair, who took over from Sudan’s Elsadig Bakheit Elfaki Abdalla, told journalists that “every country has its own ratification procedure.”
Zouhair said: “We are active in making sure that we move forward the free trade area agreement.”
He emphasised that the continent has no reason to not move forward with greater intra-Africa trade.
“Trade amongst Africans should be boosted.”
If it comes into force, the deal could create a market of 1.2 billion people.
ECA estimates that the Continental Free Trade Area will increase intra-African trade by over 50 per cent, and boost the continent’s GDP by more than $40 billion.
Earlier during the week, in an interview with Business Times, Stephen Karingi, ECA’s Director for Regional Integration and Trade, shed light on what is expected between now and the next African leaders’ summit in Niamey, Niger, in July.
“We have between now and the Summit in Niamey, in July, for countries to offer each other schedules. You know, countries have to decide, say, out of 100 tariff lines, these are the 90 we are going to open up, or these are the seven that we are going to take a little bit more time on, and these are the three that we are not going to open up.”
“The second thing is the rules of origin. Since this is a free trade area, countries need to be able to, say, what Morocco wants to trade in has been produced in Morocco or it meets the criteria for it to be able to get what we call the same treatment as any other good that is produced in another country.”
There is hope, he said, that “between now and Niamey,” issues of rules of origin will have been resolved whereby countries will be able to tell the private sector that “the agreement has come into force and for you to be able to trade, you need a certificate of origin and these are the tariff lines you can trade in.”