Today, leaders in Africa agreed to form a $3 trillion continental free-trade zone impacting 1.2 billion people. But two of Africa’s largest economies, Nigeria and South Africa, did not sign on, threatening the impact of the trade zone.
In 2015, the African Union began discussions to establish a 55-nation bloc to increase intra-regional trade. Currently, intra-regional trade only accounts for 15% of Africa’s total commerce.
The low levels of intra-regional trade, along with other factors including colonialism, high internal tariffs, poor roads and rail links, border bureaucracy and corruption contribute to Africa’s long-lasting poverty and lack of a strong manufacturing base.
Africa already has overlapping trade zones. ECOWAS in the West, EAC in the East, SADC in the South and COMESA in the East and South. However, only EAC has made any significant progress. The current bureaucracy and confusion of these trade blocs have forced people to look outside of the African continent, particularly Asia, for manufactured goods.
In addition to signing the trade agreement, governments need to open their borders and get rid of non-tariff barriers if they want people and goods to be able to move freely across borders.
This new free-trade zone only needed a minimum of 22 countries to sign up and 44 nations signed up to establish the trade block within 18 months. It is not clear why South Africa and Nigeria did not sign the agreement. Other countries who did not sign up were Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia, Burundi, Eritrea, Benin, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau.
To read more, please see: Africa agrees to giant trade bloc, but Nigeria, South Africa sit it out.