There’s an air of excitement and anticipation that’s hard to miss in South Africa. President Cyril Ramaphosa, along with the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition, Ebrahim Patel, is set to officially launch the country’s participation in the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) on the 31st of January 2024.
This event which will take place at Pier 1 in Durban Port will include a display of products due to be exported and include the witnessing of the first container of goods under the new trade preferences loaded onto a ship destined for African markets covered by the AfCFTA.
The event will be attended among others, by the Secretary General of the AfCFTA, Wamkele Mene, and Trade Ministers from the Southern African Customs Union and other African countries.
As per a South African government communique, this event follows the launch of the Guided Trade Initiative by the AfCFTA to boost participation by firms in the free trade area.
“South Africa is simultaneously co-hosting a meeting of the Council of African Trade Ministers to consider further measures to strengthen the AfCFTA, on 30-31 January 2024 at the Durban ICC. Approximately 25 trade ministers and officials from about 40 countries are expected to attend,” read the communique.
The AfCFTA encompasses all 55 member states of the African Union covering a market of over 1.3 billion people with an ambitious scope that includes pivotal areas such as digital trade, investment, and trade in goods and services.
By breaking down trade barriers within Africa, the AfCFTA aims to significantly boost intra-Africa trade, focusing on value-added production and services sectors. This is more than just a trade deal, it’s a blueprint for the future of Africa’s economy.
While South Africa is not the first country to export under the AfCFTA, the stakes, and opportunities are immense for South Africa as it opens doors to new market access opportunities across the continent, extending well beyond the Southern Africa Development Community.
For the erstwhile largest economy on the continent, South Africa’s active participation in the AfCFTA is crucial to improving its GDP of roughly $406 billion as of 2022, enhancing intra-Africa trade and accelerating growth.
This participation is not just about South African exporters, but a two-way street offering market access to other African countries into the South African market.
Forerunners for AfCFTA in Africa
South Africa’s entry into AfCFTA trade is not an isolated occurrence but part of a broader African narrative of economic integration and collaboration. Ghana has been a front-runner in the AfCFTA initiative sending its first shipment under the agreement on January 1, 2021.
This significant step, alongside other countries such as Cameroon, Kenya, Egypt, Mauritius, Rwanda, and Tanzania, marked the start of a new era in intra-continental trade, encompassing diverse products from ceramics and palm oil to car batteries and coffee.
Egypt’s involvement in AfCFTA is also pivotal, given its strategic geographic location and significant economy and the country has been actively participating in the agreement’s activities, focusing on increasing intra-African trade rates.
Rwanda, another active participant, has been leveraging the opportunities presented by AfCFTA. The first AfCFTA Certificate of Origin for Rwanda was issued to Igire Coffee for coffee products destined for Ghana.
More than just a trade agreement
For many Africans, the AfCFTA is more than just a trade agreement, it’s a vision for Africa’s economic future.
For South Africa, this is a chance to reaffirm and try to regain its role as a key player on the continent, not just in terms of economic might but as a leader in forging a path towards greater unity and prosperity in Africa.
As the first shipment sets sail from Durban, it carries with it the hopes and aspirations of an entire nation and continent, ready to embrace the promises of a more integrated, prosperous Africa.
As these nations take bold steps under the AfCFTA, they lay the groundwork for a future where African countries are not just connected by geography but by shared economic goals and mutual growth.