By Thursday, at least 50 states, including Uganda had signed up to the trade agreement, although Nigeria, the largest economy and most populous nation asked for more time for consultations.
The African Continental Free Trade Area will promote a dynamic, integrated and prosperous Africa, foreign affairs minister, Sam Kutesa told delegates at a summit in Kigali on Wednesday.
Uganda is one of the countries that signed the landmark free trade agreement area covering over 1.2 billion people and a gross domestic product (GDP) of $2.5trillion, across 55 states.
It will be the world’s largest free trade area and operate like the European Union. The free trade area seeks to progressively eliminate tariffs on trade and drive up investment to the continent.
By Thursday, at least 50 states including Uganda had signed up to the trade agreement, although Nigeria, the largest economy and most populous nation asked for more time for consultations.
Kutesa, who led Uganda’s delegation to the summit in Kigali and signed the agreement on behalf of President Yoweri Museveni, hailed the agreement as a launch pad for the continent’s economic revival.
“I am pleased that we are finally on the verge of realizing our long-held aspiration for the economic integration of Africa, which gained impetus with the Lagos Action Plan of 1980,” Kutesa stated.
“In 1991, we signed the Abuja Treaty, which had envisaged attaining the economic community within 30 years from that time,” he said, alluding to past efforts.
He told delegates similar efforts at economic integration had yielded positive results under the East African Community (EAC) regional economic bloc.
“We started the EAC Customs Union in 2005, established a Common Market in 2010 and are preparing to establish a Monetary Union in the next few years,” the minister said.
The EAC has a market of 180 million people and a GDP of $165b, while the combined EAC-COMESA-SADC Tripartite free trade area has a population of 600 million people and GDP of $1.1 trillion.
Kutesa said endorsing the free trade deal was a clear message to the world that Africa is ready for serious business with the rest of the world.
He rallied the continent to steadily change the narrative of Africa as a continent with a marginal share of global trade at just 2%, with intra-Africa trade at about 14%.
Quoting the success of the EAC’s trajectory on trade and investment, he noted that since 2005, trade within the regional bloc had grown four-fold from $1.5b to $5.5b in 2017.
“EAC citizens can use identity cards to move across some partner states and a tourist can use a single tourist visa to visit a number of EAC countries,” he disclosed.
Kutesa proposed the fast-tracking of priority programmes on industrial and infrastructure development to ensure that the unity translates into a dynamic, integrated and prosperous Africa.
The minister for trade and industry, Amelia Kyambadde described the agreement as ‘a very important not only for Uganda but for the region for trading in goods and services.’
Although Uganda has signed the continental free trade agreement, a committee but set up Cabinet will continue to study the deal to ensure that its contents from some countries.
Representatives of several African countries who endorse the agreement will hold rounds of talks later this year to address key trade issues such as competition, investment and intellectual property rights.
Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame assured countries that the free trade area would facilitate growth in intra-Africa trade and business dealings with the rest of the world.
Several personalities in business, civil society, development organisations and academia have appealed to countries to endorse and ratify the free trade agreement to expedite the continent’s growth goals.