Africa’s free trade area is just one ratification away to becoming a reality

Monday March 25 2019

Africa CEO Forum

Heads of state and panellists speak during the opening of the Africa CEO Forum at the Kigali Convention Center in Rwanda on March 25, 2019. PHOTO | AFRICA CEO FORUM 

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Rwandan President Paul Kagame said while opening the Africa CEO Forum at the Kigali Convention Center in Rwanda that 21 countries had ratified the Continental Free Trade Area.

Ethiopia last week took the agreement through Parliament, becoming the 21st country to do so.

For the trade deal that would create a market of $3 trillion and a market of 1.2 billion people with no tariff and border restrictions to be enforceable, 22 countries are required to ratify. The deal was negotiated over two years before being signed in Kigali last year.

In panel discussions, President Kagame said political will was key to resolving challenges that confront regional economic groups.

‘CFTA does not solve problems people have to make it work,” the President said in reaction to suggestions that countries were hesitant to ratify because past experiences with integration such as dumping.

“What is important is that the benefits of other arrangements and CFTA are not being questioned. It’s the only way to maximize on benefits such as job creation for the continent. Political will must come first as it allows things that must work to work,” President Kagame said.


The seventh edition of The Africa CEO Forum opened with four Presidents and three other heads of government fervently calling for leading decision makers to help realize the ambition of CFTA. More than 1800 business and political leaders are in attendance.

They are led by President Kagame, Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde, Democratic republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi and Togo President Faure Gnassingbe.

“We are here to ensure that the CFTA becomes a reality,” said Amir Ben Yahmed, president of the Africa CEO forum.

He said integration was imperative to enhancing growth and creating jobs in Africa because globalization was slowing down, robotics were hindering shift of production hubs into the continent and big economic powers were on the verge of a trade war.

“That means traditional industrialization may not work,” he said.

Philippe Le Houérou, chief executive officer of IFC, said the private sector arm of the World Bank was now helping investments in Africa through creation of markets and new opportunities for investors.

It targets to triple its lending in Africa to $10 billion from $3 billion a year through the new strategy. He said Africa needs to create 1.7 million jobs every month ‘good jobs not those in the informal sector.”

For that to happen President Kagame said open politics, responsive and accountable governance would be key as well as constant dialogue, flexibility and involvement of the private sector in progressing CFTA.

“More business with each other will lead to larger African companies competing on quality and cost. A change of mindset is required,” he said.