African Economic Conference pegs deadline of ratification of African Continental Free Trade agreement

Former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo and his daughter, Enitan Obasanjo share a light moment during the session. Behind them is C.E.O of Rwanda Development Bank, Clare Akamanzi - African Economic Conference- Kigali, 30 October 2012. Photo : Paul Kagame/ Flickr

Johannesbourg, South Africa (ADV) – The underway African Economic Conference (AEC) has urged the African countries to use the time in the run up to March 2019, the deadline for ratification, to strengthen their capacity in the legislative and tariff instruments required for the process and other “low hanging fruit” measures, presenters at a panel session during the African Economic Conference.

A total of 44 African nations signed the landmark African Continental Free Trade agreement earlier this year, with only 12 out of the required 22 countries ratifying the accord, but policy makers say there is time enough – and practical solutions – to move the process ahead.

The African Continental Free Trade (AfCFTA) area aims to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, and thus pave the way for accelerating the establishment of the Continental Customs Union and the African customs union.

The signing of AfCFTA, with its potential to create the largest free-trade area in the world – uniting fifty-four African countries with a combined population of more than one billion people and a combined gross domestic product of more than US $3.4 trillion – has also engendered much debate about the challenges of harmonizing disparate tax, fiscal and regulatory regimes as well as the varied socio-political make-up of nations on the continent.

Speaking during the conference, Dr. Trudi Hartzenberg, Executive Director of the Trade Law Centre said, “We have learned a lot of lessons.”

“We have a window to build capacity… most implementation is done at national level…there is lot that existing (free-trade areas) can bring.”

The session, moderated by African Development Bank Director of Regional Integration Moona Mupotola, also included Prof. Ademola Oyejide, Emeritus Professor of Economics, University of Ibadan and Professor Olu Ajakaiye, Executive Chairman, African Center for Shared Development and Capacity Building.

Clarifying on the topic of the March 2019 ratification deadline, Hartzenburg urged that it would serve as a good time for countries to “take advantage and prepare a comprehensive implementation strategy with detailed work plans.”

“Expectations are high the private sector is waiting,” she said. “We should not hold back in terms of preparatory work for implementation.”

Raising the issue of freedom of movement, Hakuziyaremye said it was a vital component for integration and possible to implement if the will was there.

African countries currently attracting the most Foreign Direct Investment, including Rwanda, have a robust visa openness policy, the Minister said. Rwanda announced at the beginning of this year, an entry visa on arrival for travelers from all African countries.

Prior to the panel session, there was a short presentation of the Africa Visa Openness Index 2018, which measures how open African countries are when it comes to visas by looking at what they ask of citizens from other countries in Africa when they travel.

© Bur-csa – A.H – N.A / From our regional correspondent Mkhululi Chimoio – African Daily Voice (ADV) – Follow us on Twitter : @ADVinfo_eng