AFRICA’S TRADE RELATIONSHIPS HAVE BEEN irreversibly affected by three events – the Covid-19 pandemic and two important trade agreements. At midnight on 31 January 2020, the withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU) officially came into force. The decision – Brexit – made by 52% of the British population resulted in the EU losing its second-largest economy and the Union Jack isolating itself in terms of trade, effectively quarantining in its own home. But for Africa, the move holds opportunities. Untapped export potential to the UK is large as is untapped UK export to Africa; the latter is worth more than $8 billion.
Yet, it is the new trade agreement implemented in Africa where interest should really be directed; 54 of the 55 African Union states on the continent have signed up for the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement (AfCFTA) which came into effect on the first day of 2021. Eritrea is the only country that chose to sit out – and there are various explanations as to why, not unconnected to power and politics.
By creating the largest free trade area in the world, 1.3 billion people are now set to benefit from the elimination of tariffs on most goods, the liberalization trade of key services and the address of non-tariff obstacles to intraregional trade. The AfCFTA is estimated to bring Africa annual income gains of more than $130 billion per year.
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