Roundup: Expectations mount towards continental integration as Africa starts trading under AfCFTA

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ADDIS ABABA, Jan. 1 (Xinhua) -- The African continent on Friday started trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement, amid growing expectations towards continental integration.

The AfCFTA, which was launched in March 2018 in the Rwandan capital city, Kigali, has so far garnered 54 AU member signatories, offering new hope and continental exhilaration in terms of boosting intra-African trade, and eventually facilitating Africa's development and industrialization. Eritrea is the only non-signatory country.

South Africa's President, Cyril Ramaphosa, who is also the current Chairperson of the African Union (AU), also underscored that the free trade deal "will fundamentally change" Africa's economic fortunes.

"The African Continental Free Trade Area will fundamentally change the economic fortunes of our continent," the South African President said in a Twitter post.

"I call on the entrepreneurs of our nation to seize the abundant opportunities that this historic development will present to explore new markets and build new partnerships," he added.

According to the AU, the AfCFTA envisages a long-standing goal of creating a unified continental market.

The African free trade accord has the potential of boosting the level of intra-Africa trade by more than 52 percent by the year 2022, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

Ramaphosa's remarks were also echoed by the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, as he congratulated the African continent on the start of trading under the continental free trade pact. He emphasized that the free trade agreement would strengthen Africa's quest towards a more integrated and prosperous continent.

"Congratulations to our continent for the beginning of trading under the AfCFTA. The new frontier for Africa is indeed regional integration, where minds are open to ideas and markets are open to trade. Trade defuses the most fraught relations and integrated markets generate prosperity," Ahmed said.

Rwanda's President, Paul Kagame, is also another African leader who congratulated the African continent on the start of trading under the free trade pact, saying that "cheers to the launch of trading AfCFTA, to those who put it all together and the rest of us who have to join in to make it work and worthwhile."

Experts are also expressing their positive expectations from the free trade deal.

Speaking to Xinhua on Thursday, Costantinos Bt. Costantinos, professor of public policy at the Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, said that the continental free trade pact is a great initiative by African governments to promote intra-African trade, and eventually, it will cement unity in Africa.

"The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement will show us that Africa is not just a bulk water of underdevelopment, but Africa can take care of itself," Costantinos said.

Costantinos, who served as an economic advisor to the AU and the UNECA, however, stressed that the continent should heavily invest in the development of infrastructure so as to effectively realize the ambitious free trade initiative. Enditem

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