Covering the African Union’s baptismal font in March 2018 in Kigali, the Continental Free Trade Area (ZLEC) will officially enter into force on May 30.
The announcement, made by the African Union Commission, comes after the latest ratifications by Sierra Leone and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which « made it possible to reach the minimum threshold of ratifications required (22, Editor’s note) to trigger the entry into force of the ZLEC », the statement said, adding that it « will enter into force on 30 May 2019 ». The AU Commission also mentioned the upcoming ratifications by Zimbabwe and Gambia, as the parliaments of both countries have already ratified the agreement. The only drawback is the absence (for the time being) of Nigeria, the continent’s leading economic power. The first stage of the start of the ZLEC will be agreed at the next AU summit, on 7 July in Niamey (Niger), with African trade ministers, according to the above-mentioned note, « finalizing their work on support instruments to facilitate the launch of the operational phase[of the ZLEC] ».
The stakes are high: by eliminating most of the intra-African customs duties on manufactured products with a higher value than traditional raw materials exports – at least 70% of exports from three quarters of African countries – the ZLEC would significantly accelerate the continent’s economic integration, which is still low (17% of total African exports are inter-African against 69% in Europe, see graphic below), while diversifying its exports. An ambitious and long-term challenge.