Coronavirus could delay launch of mammoth African free trade deal – official

The implementation of a mammoth African free trade agreement will not begin on July 1 as planned, a senior official said on Tuesday, citing disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Under the name African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), the free trade zone will be the world’s largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organisation seven decades ago.

It is expected to favour small and medium-size businesses, which lead more than 80 percent of Africa’s employment and make 50 percent of its GDP.

Wamkele Mene, Secretary-General of the AfCFTA, said: “It is obviously not possible to commence trade as we had intended on 1 July under the current circumstances,” Reuters reported.

The 55-nation continental free-trade zone would, if successful, will create a $3.4 trillion economic bloc with 1.3 billion people across Africa and constitute the largest new trading bloc.

Mene did not mention whether there was a new targeted implementation date, as he left the conference call before the question and answer session.

The African official said he was confident the deal would still go forward.

“The political commitment remains, the political will remains to integrate Africa’s market and to implement the agreement as was intended,” Mene said.

He said that as African governments do not have the firepower to launch the same type of economic stimulus packages that the United States and Europe are putting forward to mitigate the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, as intra-African trade could serve the same purpose.

“That’s our stimulus package. That’s how we’re going to get back on track as Africa.” Mene said.


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