Sierra Leone has become the latest country to subscribe to the trade treaty seeking a unified African market. President Julius Maada Bio appended his signature to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott on Monday, State House in Freetown disclosed. President Bio, in office for just four months, was making his maiden appearance at the 31st Ordinary Session of the African Union General Assembly.
The theme was: ‘Winning the Fight Against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation.’
President Bio is the head of the AU’s Committee of Ten on the Reform of the United Nations Security Council, a position he inherited from his predecessor Ernest Bai Koroma.
He is also chairman of the AU Peace and Security Council, under which he chaired several sideline meetings. AfCFTA promises to break the cross-border trade barriers to ensure productive economic activities among member countries. It specifically aims to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business people and investments, and thus paving the way for accelerating the establishment of a continental customs union.
The deal initially requires members to remove tariffs from 90 per cent of goods to allow free access to commodities and services across the continent. AfCFTA's overall goal is to bring together the 54 African countries with a combined population of more than one billion people and a gross domestic product of more than $3.4 trillion, the AU says.
If successfully implemented, analysts say, it could increase the economic diversification and intracontinental trade significantly. And a study attributed to the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) notably says that AfCFTA could lead to a 52 per cent increase above the baseline in intra-African trade flows by 2022.
The agreement, which was first unveiled at an extraordinary summit of the AU Heads of State and Government in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, earlier in March, will create what has been described as potentially the largest free-trade area in terms of participating countries since the formation of the World Trade Organisation.
Sierra Leone was in the middle of its elections at the time which ushered in a new government.
Freetown State House said Monday in a statement that President Bio’s ascension to the agreement signifies his commitment to his “ambitious agenda” to ensure that it has access to the rest of the continent’s market and use trade and investment to revitalise its economy.
The agreement had been signed by 44 member countries in Kigali.
Kenya, Ghana and Rwanda were first to sign and ratify the agreement.
It requires 22 ratifications by members for the treaty to come into effect.