AU Summit: “historic” launch of the African Free Trade Area

The member countries of the African Union (AU) symbolically launched in Niamey on Sunday the "operational phase" of the African Continental Free Trade Area (Zlec), which must be a step towards "peace and security". prosperity in Africa "and become" the largest trading area in the world ".

"The entry into force of the Zlec is the most important event in the life of our continent since the creation of the OAU (Organization of African Unity) in 1963 and its transformation into an African Union", affirmed Opening of the summit the Nigerian host, President Mahamadou Issoufou, one of the most ardent promoters of the area.

Several heads of state have succeeded on the dais of the summit of the AU to launch the five "operational instruments" ("digital payment system", "monitoring portal" and "rules of origin" ...) before President Issoufou unveiled a plaque launching the Zlec.

Some 4,500 delegates and guests, including 32 heads of state and more than 100 ministers, were present for the event in the Nigerian capital, under surveillance, which has been revamped with a brand new airport, expanded routes and new hotels and buildings.

- "An old dream comes true" -

"An old dream is coming true, the founding fathers must be proud of it," said African Union Commission President Moussa Faki Mahamat.

The Nigerian giant, reluctant until then, and its neighbor Benin signed the agreement Sunday at the opening of the summit, to the applause of their counterparts.

54 of the 55 African countries will form this new market with headquarters in Accra.

Only Eritrea did not sign the agreement but announced that it was willing to do so. A team of experts from the AU will be visiting the country soon.

"The road is still long," said Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Bitter negotiations continued Sunday behind the scenes on the gradual implementation of the Zlec, which is to gather 1.2 billion people.

The talks stumble notably on the schedule of the reductions of the customs duties and the speed at which they are lowered but also on the circulation of goods imported from abroad, a diplomatic source confided.

The market is expected to be active from July 1, 2020. "We need to set a timetable so that everyone can play their part in the preparation of the (unique) market," said the Commissioner for Trade and Industry. AU, Albert Muchanga.

- Fight against jihad -

Chiedu Osakwe, the chief Nigerian negotiator, emphasizes that "trade liberalization must be aligned with internal structural reforms". "No country will liberalize everything" at once, he says, adding that the process should extend over several years.

"Least developed countries have ten years to eliminate tariffs." A group of six countries (among the least developed, including Niger and Malawi) "got 15 years, told AFP Cristina Chatima, director Malawi's trade.

The AU estimates that Zlec will increase intra-African trade by almost 60% by 2022 and boost all of its economies. Critics point to the lack of complementary economies and fear that cheap imports will hurt small-scale agricultural and industrial producers.

Other issues discussed during the day include the fight against jihadists, the situation in Libya and Sudan (suspended from the AU) and emigration.

The countries of the G5-Sahel force (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Chad), struggling in their fight against the jihadists because of lack of resources, have asked for the support of other African states in their quest for greater support from the UN.

President Issoufou on Saturday called for "the establishment of an international coalition against terrorism in the Sahel, like the coalition set up to fight Daesh (Islamic State group, Ed) in the Middle East ".

Source: Seychelles News Agency