The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) could begin operating on 1 January 2021, Secretary General Wamkele Mene has said. The COVID-19 pandemic made the original launch date of AfCFTA untenable.
Speaking during a webinar organised by the Africa CEO Forum, Mene said the new target date would be subject to the disease’s spread on the continent.
“We have made a recommendation that in the next six months the free trade zone could start trading but subject to the pandemic itself,” he said.
The trade deal had been due to be implemented from 1 July 2020.
The World Health Organization WHO predicts there will be a steady increase in COVID-19 cases in Africa until a vaccine is developed.
Mene said most African nations are either in partial lockdown or have closed their borders, complicating the establishment of the trade bloc.
“It is not credible for us to say that we are trading from July 1 when we know that trucks at borders are lined up 40 to 50 kilometres,” he said.
The continental free-trade zone, once implemented, would be the largest new economic bloc since the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1994. It will bring together 1.3 billion people in a $3.4 trillion economic partnership.
The onset of the pandemic halted negotiations and trading between member countries during April and May and this made the 1 July date impractical, Mene said.
He added that he hoped member countries would conclude negotiations on tariffs over the next six months.
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