The dream that every African country would join to create a trade bloc took a step further towards reality in May, when the ECA convened a high-level meeting in Addis Ababa to mobilise finance ministers and policy makers to create the measures necessary to form the market by 2020. Report by Antony Shaw.
This year's UN Economic Commission for Africa's Conference of Ministers took place against the backdrop of the historic signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement by 44 countries in Kigali, Rwanda, earlier this year.
Countries are now required to ratify and implement the legal instruments of the agreement that would create a trade bloc with a combined gross domestic product of more than $3trn, together with an additional 300,000 direct and two million indirect jobs, according to the African Union.
The AfCFTA is one of the flagship projects of the AU Agenda 2063--a strategic framework adopted in 2015 for the socioeconomic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years.
The necessity for this ambitious plan to be a driving force for sustainable and equitable development across the continent was underlined by Dr Abiy Ahmed, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, who urged the assembled finance ministers and policy makers to use their "collective vision" to create the right conditions and commit the necessary resources for the creation of the world's largest trading bloc, with 1.2bn people.
The Prime Minister, who stated that his government is ready to ratify the AfCFTA and deposit its instruments to the AU, said: "There are no losers with the AfCFTA. We are all winners." He also stated it must create "inclusive prosperity" for all Africans, including marginalised and vulnerable communities.
Vera Songwe, the Executive Secretary for the ECA, reflecting on the theme of the meeting--"The African Continental Free Trade Area: Creating fiscal space for jobs and economic diversification' --emphasised the wide-ranging measures required to fully unlock the potential of the AfCFTA: "We need to improve our levels of fiscal space. This includes boosting tax revenues, improving the efficiency of public expenditure management, tackling illicit financial flows and making use of private finance for public projects."
The conference, which included a programme of ministerial debates together with expert briefings, aimed to offer a clearer vision for the trade bloc. Special focus was given to how it would become a catalyst for economic...