Leaders of 44 African countries have signed a deal to create a free trade bloc on the continent.
The deal brings the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) one step closer to reality and was signed at an extraordinary session of the African Union (AU) in Rwanda.
Of the signatories, 30 have also signed a free movement of people protocol.
AfCFTA will create a single market on the continent for goods and services and ensure the free movement of people and investment, with the aim of expanding trade within the continent. It is also hoped to be the precursor to a single customs union.
However, 10 members of the AU including Nigeria, one of the continent’s biggest economies, have refused to sign the deal, and the signatories still need to ratify the deal domestically before it comes into force.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, chair of the AU Commission, said Africa needed to “unite or perish”.
“The convening of this extraordinary session of the assembly has raised great expectations across the continent. Our peoples, our business community and our youth in particular, cannot wait any longer to see the lifting of the barriers that divide our continent, hinder its economic take-off and perpetuate misery, even though Africa is abundantly endowed with wealth,” he said.
Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, said the AU and individual members would now be “called upon to deliver as never before”.
“The need to efficiently and effectively manage major programmes such as this is the reason why we are prioritising the institutional and financial reform of our organisation,” he said
He added: “In order to fully realise the benefit of continental free trade, I would underscore the necessity of ensuring that women and young people have their full and rightful place.”
An African free trade area is one of the flagship projects of the AU’s Agenda 2063.
☛ Want to stay up to date with the news? Sign up to our daily bulletin.