Coronavirus slows launch of African free trade agreement

By Pedro Alonso

Nairobi, Apr 29 (efe-epa).- The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which seeks to create the world’s largest free trade zone, has been delayed due to the coronavirus.

The setback has added uncertainty to Africa’s ambitious integration plan which will not be able to start operating as scheduled from 1 July.

The beginning of the operational phase of the treaty was outlined this year as the star event on African Union’s political agenda.

Wamkele Mene was sworn in as AfCFTA secretary-general on 19 March as the first holder of the newly-created position, which was designed by the UA to boost the operation of the agreement.

“The priority, for now, has to be to fight the pandemic. The priority has to be to save lives,” he said over the telephone from Addis Ababa, where the AU is headquartered.

He added that it is important “to allow governments the space to deal with this unprecedented public health crisis” and that once they have “defeated the virus” they can refocus on trade objectives.

He said he hoped African heads of state would announce a new start date for the agreement in the coming weeks.

David Luke, coordinator of the African Trade Policy Centre at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca), told Efe the AU Commission had proposed 1 January 2021 as a prospective new start date.

“The Covid-19 crisis has inevitably impacted the implementation of AfCFTA,” he added.

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