Leaders of 44 African countries sign the deal in Rwanda that aims to create a continental market of 1.2 billion people, with a combined GDP of over $3.4 trillion.
Leaders of 44 African nations on Wednesday signed what is being called the largest free trade agreement since the creation of the World Trade Organization.
The deal establishing the CFTA (African Continental Free Trade Area) creates a continental market of 1.2 billion people, with a combined gross domestic product of more than $3.4 trillion.
A major goal is to boost intra-African trade and rely less on the volatility of commodity prices that affect many exports.
The aim is to have agreement, signed by 44 of the African Union's 55 member states, enter into force by the end of this year, said the chair of the African Union (AU) Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat.
States now must ratify the deal, but the number of countries needed to put the agreement into force has not yet been agreed upon.
"Our people, 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 takeoff and perpetuate misery, even though Africa is abundantly endowed with wealth," Mahamat said.
He urged strong follow-up to "confound those who, outside Africa, continue to think, with barely concealed condescension, that our decisions will never materialise."
TRT World's Abdi Osman has more.
The president of Nigeria, one of Africa's largest economies, skipped the summit amid trade unions' objections.
And while Africa's largest economies are expected to benefit most from the deal that progressively eliminates tariffs and other trade barriers, some of them worry that more people from poorer countries will migrate their way.
But some of the continent's strongest and fastest-growing economies, including Ghana, Egypt, Kenya and Ethiopia, signed the deal.
South Africa's new president has expressed support, but his signing was not announced during the event.
"Some countries have reservations and have not finalised their national consultations. But we shall have another summit in Mauritania in July where we expect countries with reservations to also sign," said Albert Muchanga, the AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry.
Delighted to sign #AfCFTA, a free trade area for Africa. This deal will facilitate trade across the continent, providing opportunities for Zimbabwean businesses and youth. We are ready to play a full role in regional and international affairs for the benefit of all our people. pic.twitter.com/v82kRnVunE— President of Zimbabwe (@edmnangagwa) March 21, 2018
Boost to intra-Africa trade
Currently, African countries only do about 16 percent of their business with each other, the smallest amount of intra-regional trade compared to Latin America, Asia, North America and Europe.
And with average tariffs of 6.1 per cent, businesses currently pay higher tariffs when they export within Africa than when they export outside it, according to the AU.
"If we remove customs and duties by 2022, the level of intra-African trade will increase by 60 percent, which is very, very significant," Muchanga said.