Negotiating teams from countries that last week signed the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) deal will spend the first ten days of May in Addis Ethiopia to iron out outstanding issues before the final implementation phase.
During the just-concluded extraordinary summit of the African Union that was held in Kigali, 44 countries signed the instrument that is set to make the continent the largest trade bloc in the world.
According to the CFTA transition implementation programme seen by The New Times, the Addis meeting, which will be the 11th of its kind, will look at the implementation and practical application of the tariff liberalisation modality on the designation of sensitive products and the exclusion list.
The teams will also look into the implementation and practical application of services modality on choice of priority sectors and the next steps.
In a phone interview, the Head of the CFTA Unit at the African Union, Prudence Sebahizi, told The New Times that even though most negotiations were done months before the signing ceremony, there was still need to clear outstanding issues.
“Indeed, the negotiations were done last year but between now and when the deal enters into force, we will be looking at the outstanding issues like schedules of commitment, which have to be cleared for the framework to be easier to implement,” he said.
Before that, the month of April is dedicated to stakeholder consultation with regard to CFTA where the business community will be sensitised on the benefits of the CFTA as they also coordinate the ratification of the agreement.
“Stakeholder engagement is something that we take seriously and it is a continuous process because they are important to the process. We encourage countries to remember that this is a continuous process,” he said.
Sebahizi says that there is currently no pressure on signatories but countries are expected to start moving toward ratification.
During, a business meeting that preceded that of Heads of State Summit in Kigali last week, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa told participants that though the political commitment to the agreement may be there, it remains to be seen how many would be able to ratify the agreements within the 180-day time-frame.
“First, as SADC the region, and together with the rest of Africa, we should increase the pace. I believe that political commitment is there but the pace at which each individual member state may move may be the issue. But as far as my country is concerned, things are now different. Zimbabwe is open for business,” he said.
SADC is the Southern African Development Community to which Zimbabwe is a member.