African leaders agreed to start negotiations over setting up a continental free trade area by 2017 as a way to create long-term growth, investment and jobs. The announcement of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) negotiations was made during the AU Summit in South Africa.
Macky Sall, President of Senegal and Chair of the NEPAD Heads of State and Government Orientation Committee (HSGOC), highlighted that intra-African trade stood currently only at 12 per cent. He said that the talks on creating an African free trade zone were a milestone in promoting the movement of goods and people within the continent. He urged that it was now the time “to make a giant step to make the CFTA a reality”.
To meet the 2017 deadline for a common African market, member states are expected to reduce trade barriers and remove artificial borders among themselves.
President Sall stressed the example of the Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has already implemented a single passport to eventually create a borderless region. He emphasised on the need to build regional infrastructure as a key success factor for the implementation of CFTA. “Infrastructure has to be the priority and without it, trade between African countries will never be improved”, he said.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and East African Community (EAC) also launched a tripartite trade agreement earlier on June 10 in Egypt, merging 26 African countries into a free trade zone.
Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya and one of the Champions of the CFTA, highlighted how important and critical the CFTA is for the Continent. CTA means for Africa “jobs for the youth, peace and security, prosperity, selfreliance,” he said. “I can assure everybody that the CFTA, if it is implemented, will benefit big and small countries. We just have to remove the artificial boundaries we have created for ourselves and that have been inherited from colonial times”, he said.
The start of the CFTA negotiations is an important boost for NEPAD’s Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) which promotes regional economic integration by building mutually beneficial infrastructure and strengthening the ability of countries to trade and establish regional value chains for increased competitiveness.