With the 32nd Ordinary Session of the General Assembly of the African Union (AU) closing in, Ethiopia has approved the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, after the cabinet passed the deal over the weekend. The country joins 17 others from sub-Saharan Africa to have ratified the pact since it was launched at Kigali in March 2018.

Having passed the cabinet stage, the deal will now proceed to the legislature for a final vote before instruments of ratification could be deposited with the AU chairperson.

“The decision is consistent with PM Abiy’s vision of creating a closer & full regional integration – where minds are open to ideas & markets are open to trade. Ethiopia’s decision & track record of advocating Pan African causes will bring to reality an integrated Africa,” office of the Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, said.

With Ethiopia’s impending ratification being the eighteenth, only four other ratifications will be required for the pact to become effective.

Which countries have ratified?So far, West Africa has the most ratifications from Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Togo and Sierra Leone. While in Central Africa, Chad and the Republic of Congo have ratified.

From Southern Africa, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Namibia and South Africa have ratified, while the AU has secured approvals from Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda in East Africa. Confirmation from Djibouti is pending.

No show from North Africa

While all the North African countries signed the Kigali Declaration enacting the AfCFTA, none of them is yet to ratify the agreement.

Seeing that all ratifications have been from sub-Saharan Africa, the AU had earlier challenged countries from Northern region to ratify the AfCFTA agreement.

The spokesperson in the office of the AU chairperson, Ebba Kalondo expressed her optimism ‘to have a North African country among the historic 22 ratifications that will effectively bring the AfCFTA into force’.

The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is a trade agreement with signatories from 49 African Union member states. The AfCFTA was signed in Kigali, Rwanda on March 21,  2018. However, signing the agreement does not yet establish the AfCFTA. It only functions as an umbrella to which protocols and annexes will be added. Once all documents are concluded and ratified by 22 states, the free trade area will formally exist.

Once it is effective, AfCFTA aims to create a single continental market for goods and services, boost intra-African trade and double trade flows by the year 2022 with free movement of business persons and investments, remove tariffs on 90 percent of goods, enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level, liberalize services and tackle other barriers to intra-African trade.

With only four approvals to go, there is an air of expectation that when the Heads of State meet sometime next week, the AfCFTA will become effective.

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