Negotiators of the African Continental Free-Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), the largest trade agreement in 40 years, have said that they will not halt the implementation of the trade deal because of those countries which did not sign the agreement in March.
South Africa, Nigeria and nine other countries did not sign the crucial agreement at the African Union (AU) Extraordinary Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, in March. Rather, they only signed the declaration on the establishment of the trade deal, saying that they still needed to consult with their lawmakers before signing.
Benedict Oramah, president and chairman of the Afreximbank, said that the trade deal would go ahead with or without the participation of South Africa and Nigeria, two of Africa's largest economies.
"In my view, the train left the station. As a significance for the agreement to happen, we have the 44. Of course Nigeria and South Africa, as the first and third economies in Africa, are important to be part of it, but it is also important that the train moves together with the 44 countries so that people realise the importance of the AfCFTA and that others will join," Oramah said.
Olusegun Obasanjo, chairperson of the Afreximbank advisory panel, said that countries like South Africa and Nigeria were well within their rights to take time before signing the AfCFTA since they "have the economic muscle to demand a deal that would also be beneficial to them".
Obasanjo said he believed that Nigeria will sign the agreement before the next AU meeting in July this year.
"I believe Africa continental free trade area will be up and going by end of next year, by 2020 half of Africa will be involved. On the eve of the signing ceremony in Kigali, the feeling among the leaders was that probably we would not get more than 25 countries but we got 44. I believe that the train has left the station and the rest of us will have to make sure that we catch up," Obasanjo said.
Oramah and Obasanjo were speaking at the launch of the inaugural Intra-African Trade Fair 2018 (IATF2018) in Cairo late Thursday. The IATF2018 is scheduled to take place in December and earmarked to bring about 1,000 exhibitors from all over the continent to boost trade among African countries.