The Extraordinary Summit of the African Union (AU) on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was marked by the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which is a flagship project of Agenda 2063, the African Union’s long-term vision for an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa. The leaders of Africa’s 55 countries made history on 21st of March 2018, when they come together to sign an agreement that will launch the AfCFTA, which will make the continent the largest free trade area created since the formation of the World Trade Organization.

The launch took place at the 10th Extraordinary Meeting of the Heads of State of the African Union convened by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, the new Chairperson of the AU, who said of the AfCFTA: “This is a historic pact which has been nearly 40 years in the making, and it represents a major advance for African integration and unity.”

44 out of the 55 AU member states signed the Agreement establishing the AfCFTA, 47 signed the Kigali Declaration and 30 signed the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, Right to Residence and Right to Establishment.

After Addis Ababa in May 1963, Abuja in June 1991 and Durban in July 2002, Kigali, in this month of March, marks a new step in Africa march towards greater integration and closer unity.

AfCFTA will develop Intra-Africa trade

According to the AU, intra-Africa trade stands at about 16%, compared with 19% intra-regional trade in Latin America, 51% in Asia, 54% in North America and 70% in Europe. The United Nations Economic for Africa estimates that the AfCFTA has the potential to boost intra-Africa trade by 53% by eliminating import duties and non-tariff barriers. It could create an African market of over 1.2 billion people with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $2.5 trillion.

Speaking at the opening of the summit, AU Commission chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, urged African heads of State and Government to sign this landmark agreement.

The Free Trade Area will result in the establishment of a market of over one billion two hundred million people, with a combined gross product of over three trillion dollars.

The signing by the AU Heads of State and Government of the agreement on the Continental Free Trade Area goes in this direction, as does the gas pipeline project linking Morocco and Nigeria as well as the Tangier-Lagos road. Its implementation will be based on regional economic communities, which are called upon to play a significant role in promoting integration.

UN Chief: AfCFTA, 'Important Step' Towards Achieving SDGs

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has welcomed the signing of a continental free trade agreement in Africa that has created one of the World’s largest trading blocs with over 50 countries. “I congratulate African leaders for taking the leap into history by signing the African Continental Free Trade Area,” said Guterres in a statement.

“This is an important step towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and delivering on the African agenda of peace and prosperity.”

It is expected that the key beneficiaries from the Free Trade Area will be Africa’s small and medium sized enterprises, which account for 80 per cent of the region’s businesses; women, who represent 70 per cent of the informal cross-border traders; and the youth, who will be able to find new employment opportunities.

Morocco King: AfCFTA Is Critical Step towards Africa Multifaceted Development.

The launching of the African Continental Free Trade Area is a critical step towards the achievement of multifaceted development in Africa, said Morocco King Mohammed VI, underlining that the AfCFTA is "an initiative by Africa, for Africa."

In a speech to the Extraordinary Summit of heads of state and government of the African Union on the Continental Free Trade Area, held in the Rwandan capital, the sovereign said that "the creation of the largest free trade area in the world, with the youngest population on the planet, is a landmark event which attests to our shared determination to build an Africa for the future."

"This initiative expands and builds on the countless measures taken by our respective countries to promote intra-African trade. It will boost investment, stimulate economic growth, enhance continental interconnectivity and inject fresh momentum into African integration," the King stressed.

The sovereign affirmed that Morocco believes in a kind of co-development which is based on intra-African cooperation, economic complementarity, active solidarity and the pooling of resources and efforts. "To promote progress in Africa and boost intra-African trade, we need to build on the technological development the world has witnessed and to turn our intra-African trade deficit into opportunities for the development of new digital technologies," the sovereign underscored, adding that, "spurred on by young people's ingenuity, creativity and audacity, digital technology is changing the face of our Continent."

The king noted that the African Continental Free Trade Area is a key instrument for the promotion of this new economic development paradigm centered on innovation, diversification and exchange rooted in solidarity.

The member countries of the regional communities will have to play a concrete role in the construction of this free trade area, whose entry into force requires the ratification of the agreement by at least 22 member States.