Editorial | Agreement a new dawn for Africa

On paper, the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement comes across as a promising liberator of the continent’s economies, big and small.

The framework for the agreement, signed in Kigali, Rwanda, last week, follows years of sluggish progress with the idea of an intra-continental trade pact.

The forecasts are extremely bullish if it sees the light of day: a single market for goods and services, with unfettered movement for businessmen and investments, which could spur close to R80-trillion in cumulative business and consumer spending among 1.7 billion people by 2030.

These figures rely on the participation of all African member states.

So far, 10 countries have yet to commit, Nigeria and South Africa among them.

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies says they have no particular objection to the agreement and merely need to add meat to the bones.

Once all the domestic legislative requirements are completed, South Africa will, in all likelihood, join the club.

Even so, there is some distance to travel before the final version of an agreement is enacted.

All nation states will have to undergo similar parliamentary processes at home before the agreement is formally ratified.

Assuming this will happen, it may well usher in a new era of economic development for Africa, encouraging, as it will, increased commerce and transferral of skills.

There is bound to be some haggling from smaller nations. Some concern exists that the bigger economies of South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria stand to benefit disproportionately from their manufacturing industries, creating trade imbalances through their exporting prowess.

Others may eye suspiciously the removal of any tariffs and duties that could undermine their national revenues.

Like many treaties, however, the gains are meant to annuitise over the long term.

With Europe and the US battening down the hatches, this agreement by Africans for Africans could be the homegrown economic driver of a new, true and sustainable developmental renaissance.