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Africa launches its Continental Free Trade Area

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African Union (AU) Heads of State and Government meet today on 21 March in Kigali, Rwanda, to launch the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) - one of the flagship projects of Africa´s Agenda 2063 and a major step towards African continental economic integration.

The Republic of Rwanda, which holds the African Union Presidency, hosts this 10th Extraordinary Session of the AU Assembly focused on the AfCFTA and taking place from 17-21 March in the presence of the AU Heads of State, AU Commissioners, Representatives of the AU Organs, African Regional Economic Communities, UN Agencies and key partner organisations such as the EU.

The AfCFTA aims at providing a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of people and investments. Its goal is to accelerate Intra-Africa trade through better harmonization and coordination of trade liberalization. Through these measures, the establishment of the AfCFTA is expected to gather impetus to boost economic growth and attract investments from both within Africa and the world.

The Continental Free Trade Area is one of the central projects of the First Ten-Year Implementation Plan of Agenda 2063 and is being driven forward along with other related initiatives such as the Single African Air Transport Market and the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and the African Passport.

In a Joint Statement HR/VP Federica Mogherini, EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström and EU Commissioner for Development and International Cooperation Neven Mimica stated: "The adoption and signing of the AfCFTA legal instruments and the signing of the Protocol on free movement of persons are concrete commitments to liberalisation and to building on what has already been achieved at the regional level. The EU is ready to support the implementation of this impressive achievement in the spirit of the African Union-European Union partnership and our joint political declaration of the Summit in Abidjan in November 2017.

Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki tweeted about the launch of the CFTA as "A historic milestone towards the Africa We Want".

EU Commissioner for Development and International Cooperation Neven Mimica congratulated the African Union and its Member States and reiterated that "Europe stands by Africa in this journey towards more integration."

The EU, as a prime example of regional economic integration in the world, is actively engaged with its African partners in supporting regional economic integration in Africa, including the establishment of the AfCFTA, through various initiatives with an emphasis on more integrated markets, the promotion of intra-regional trade, the development of investment and productive capacity, creation of decent jobs and the improvement of economic infrastructures.

Europe´s trade relations with Africa are guided by Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) as well as Association Agreements which give Africa generous and guaranteed access to the EU single market and include development components.

In a recent article of the London School of Economics about the Economic Partnership Agreements, the author Dr. Olu Fasan argues in his analysis that “EPAs could be the key in helping African countries achieve their goal of industrialisation”. How so? By supporting Africa in the addressing what the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) calls “the 3Cs”, namely, competitiveness of supply capacity; conformity with international standards; and connectivity to markets. “If fully implemented, the EPAs can help Africa tackle, to a great extent, these challenges”, Dr Fasan argues.

In West Africa, for instance, the EU undertakes to provide funding for projects linked to trade, industry, energy and transport infrastructure in West Africa, as well as funding to cover the net fiscal impact of implementing the agreement for the period of tariff dismantling. The EU supports African countries overcoming challenges to gain access to EU market e.g. by providing financial and technical support to help West African exporters meet the EU's Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) standards. This is why the EU remains hopeful that all West African countries will sign and ratify the West African EPA, so that it can be successfully implemented.

Read more about the launch the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA):



Nicola Bellomo, EU Ambassador to Rwanda attended the meeting in Kigali. Chargé d’affaires France, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Rwanda, EU Ambassador, Russian Ambassador and Chinese Ambassador to Rwanda. EU Head of Delegation to Rwanda, H.E. Nicola BELLOMO with Rwanda Minister of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Louise Mushikiwabo