Free trade across the whole continent of Africa moved from dream to reality in January this year. The establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) opened the way for the steady removal of trade barriers between African countries, ending up with the world’s largest free trade area.
It’s a huge project, aiming to connect a market of 1.3 billion people across 55 countries, increasing intra-African trade by 50% and raising Africa’s GDP by 7% by 2035.
One of the obstacles to be overcome is infrastructure. As Mene Wamkele, Secretary General of the African Continental Free Trade Area Secretariat explains, ‘If you don’t have the roads, if you don’t have the right equipment for customs authorities at the border to facilitate the fast and efficient transit of goods… if you don’t have the infrastructure, both hard and soft, it reduces the meaningfulness of this agreement’.
To stimulate growth, Africa must prioritise attracting foreign investment. When investors come in, the infrastructure improvements will follow.
The Africa-wide agreement has also caught the attention of President Joe Biden of the United States, with his administration seeking to step up its engagement with a continent that will become increasingly important to world markets.
Image: Mene Wamkele, Secretary General of the African Continental Free Trade Area Secretariat, at a media briefing in July 2021.
Image courtesy of AfCFTA.