The free trade area, the world`s largest free trade area by land, is expected to be fully operational by 2030. It has 55 accession member countries, including Nigeria, 28 of which have ratified the agreement. “Most of the intra-African trade is on the road and there have been delays at border crossings with queues that have literally been several kilometres long during the closure, as all countries end a kind of border restriction,” Hartzenberg says. According to her, it is the free trade area that comes into play. For africa as a whole to benefit from these innovations, fewer barriers to trade are needed. “This is the challenge of regional integration: paving the way for the use of African resources for the good of the entire continent.” The pandemic officially calls for the free trade area to take “a major step forward in the organization of cooperation between African states.” According to Maryla Maliszewska, an economist at the World Bank and lead author of the report, African countries should have an interest in advancing the free trade area. “Trade is important to build sufficient resilience to future shocks,” the economist said. The idea of trade should not be terrifying until later. “This is a decisive factor in the resumption of the pandemic.” Poor communication and lack of adequate transport infrastructure between African nations is another problem affecting intra-African trade. Add a pandemic, and it will be chaos. READ ALSO: Nigeria signs agreements of the African Trade Insurance Agency There is another reason why the pandemic is an opportunity for the free trade area: it has shown partners – sometimes painfully – what they have forgotten or neglected in the negotiations, for example in the services sector. “We realized that we missed a very important sector, namely the health sector,” says Chief Councillor Sebahizi. There is no doubt that health will play an important role in future discussions.

The report aims to help countries implement strategies that can maximize the potential benefits of the agreement while minimizing risks. Creating a continental market requires resolute efforts to reduce all business costs. This requires legislation that allows goods, capital and information to move freely and easily across borders. Countries that do so will be able to attract foreign investment and increase competition that can increase productivity and innovation for domestic firms. Governments must also prepare their workforce to use new opportunities with new measures to reduce the cost of job change. Afful said that while the 54 African countries signed the afCTA agreement, many still have to lay down their ratification instruments to benefit from the trade agreement. Successful implementation of AfCFTA would help mitigate the negative effects of COVID-19 on economic growth by supporting regional trade and value chains by reducing trade costs. In the longer term, AfCFTA would provide a path for integration and growth reforms for African countries. By replacing the patchwork of regional agreements, streamlining border procedures and prioritizing trade reforms, AfCFTA could help African countries strengthen their resilience to future economic shocks. The free trade agreement, signed last year and due to come into force on 1 July this year, has been delayed due to the outbreak of coronavirus disease, which has delayed negotiations on the Goods Trade Protocol, including tariff concessions.