Following Wednesday’s cabinet approval of the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) agreement, the first major domestic step toward ratification of the trade framework, the instrument is now ready to be tabled before the Lower House, officials have said.
The bill could be tabled before parliament as early as next week when lawmakers return from recess for an extraordinary session, The New Times has learnt.
The Director of External Trade at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Alice Twizeye, told this newspaper that all the ministry was waiting for now is for parliament to set the date when the Executive will introduce the bill on the floor of the House.
“We are happy that cabinet has approved our draft document and are ready to move to the next step, which is tabling the bill before the Chamber of Deputies,” he said.
The bill is expected to be tabled by the Minister for Trade and Industry, Vincent Munyeshyaka.
The trade deal was signed by 44 African countries during the 10th extraordinary summit of the African Union in Kigali last month. The framework, agreed after years of negotiations led by the African Union, seeks to create the world’s largest trade bloc.
At the signing event on March 21, the African leaders agreed that countries would be given six months to conduct further internal consultations and go through the requisite domestic ratification processes.
MP John Ruku-Rwabyoma, a member of the parliamentary standing committee on Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Security, said he does not anticipate any difficulty in passing the instrument in parliament.
“Most parliamentarians support this continental trade deal,” he told The New Times. “It will sail through parliament without significant resistance.”
Rwanda becomes the second country after Kenya whose cabinet has backed the trade framework, with several other countries, including Nigeria, which is yet to sign the agreement, having also started internal consultations about the deal.
The Head of the CFTA Unit at the African Union Commission, Prudence Sebahizi, welcomed Rwanda cabinet’s endorsement of the trade framework, adding that they have been observing progress across the continent since the signing of the agreement last month.
“We are happy to see these steps being taken domestically and would like to encourage other countries to expedite the process as well. I know that Kenya is on the right track too,” he said. “We have also received notifications from countries that didn’t sign the agreement in Kigali saying they are ready to sign, countries like Ivory Coast….there is good progress.”
Sebahizi says that the AU was mobilising member states through their diplomatic representation to expedite the ratification process, adding that the focus was being put on making the CFTA implementable.
At the Kigali AU summit, it was agreed that 22 ratifications would be enough for the protocol to come into force.
The deal will see signatory nations progressively eliminate tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade in goods, liberalise trade in services, cooperate on investment, intellectual property rights and competition policies, and cooperate on all trade related areas between state parties.
Should the deal be ratified by all the 55 African nations, it will create a market of over 1.2 billion people and a combined Gross Domestic Product of over US$3.5 trillion.