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Gambia Ratifies the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement

Members of The Gambia National Assembly on Monday unanimously passed the agreement that establishes African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The Minister of Trade, Regional Integration and Employment, Lamin Jobe who tabled the agreement proposal before the parliamentarians said it would help the country in addressing its international trade difficulties.

“This document will definitely serve as a take-off point to enhance the free movement of people, goods and services. There is a lot of advantage that we can gain from the implementation of this agreement.”

The 18th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union held in Ethiopia in 2012, adopted a decision to establish a Continental Free Trade Area by an indicative date of 2017.

Contributing to the debate before the ratification, the National Assembly Member for Basse, Muhammed Magassy described the agreement as important but warned that its implementation would require political will.

“The implementation cannot be done without the commitment of the executive and the political leaders. We will give our support to this agreement. We will adopt it and ratify it but if it comes to the level of implementation, we are seeking for your cooperation, commitment and political will so that it is implemented for the intended purpose it is meant for.”    

Sidia Jatta of Wuli West described the bill an excellent idea but raised concern that “the serious implications are such that the whole enterprise will be meaningless unless we take charge of those serious concerns.”

He said Gambia’s trading system of re-exporting the imported goods to elsewhere from Europe has killed the local businesses. He argued that The Gambia could have created infrastructures to add values to local produces for exportation instead of re-exporting foreign made goods or merely exporting raw materials.

“We have not done that for 50 years and this is not peculiar to The Gambia. It is a generalized problem in Africa. Now we are talking about free trade area. If we continue to do what we have been doing throughout our lives here, it means that we are going to continue to promote European industries to the detriment of values of our continent.”

On 21 March 2018, presidents and representatives from 49 African countries gathered in the Rwandan capital, Kigali to sign the framework deal for the AfCFTA at the African Union summit. According to officials, the 80-page-long document would create the world’s largest free trade area, with 1.2 billion inhabitants and a GDP of about $3trn.

The African Heads of States and Governments pose during African Union (AU) Summit for the agreement to establish the African Continental Free Trade Area in Kigali, Rwanda, on March 21, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / STR

“I am also with strong conviction that given the African market of over one billion people, the implementation of the Free Trade Area will significantly increase intra-African trade which currently stands at around 12%,” President Adama Barrow told the summit in Kigali.

Among AfCFTA requirements are massive cuts to customs and duties, the simplification of bureaucratic procedures, the strengthening of regional economic communities like ECOWAS and huge investment in road, railroad, air, digital and financial infrastructure.

Some of Africa’s economic giants are yet to ratify the agreement. Nigeria, which initially supported the AfCTFA negotiations, is holding off on signing the agreement. Authorities in Abuja said they were re-evaluating the deal’s impact.

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