ADDIS ABABA, April 11 (Xinhua) -- The Ethiopian government on Thursday deposited the instrument of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) ratification to the African Union (AU) Commission.
The AfCFTA, which was so far ratified by 22 African countries, has witnessed 19 AU member countries depositing the instruments of ratification to the 55-member pan African bloc, while three additional deposits of ratifications are presently expected to officially commence the free trade pact.
Deposits of ratification are currently expected from Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Gambia following ratification of the AfCFTA by the three countries' parliaments recently, the AU said in a statement on Thursday.
The AfCFTA will enter into effect one month after receipt of the 22nd instrument of ratification, which is the minimum threshold needed to approve the agreement into force, according to the AU.
AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat said in a statement that followed the Ethiopian government's move to deposit its ratification that the ratification by the host country of the continental union "was indicative of the commitment of the Ethiopian government and the leadership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in advancing the African integration agenda."
The AU Chairperson further noted that since assuming office, the Ethiopian premier "has taken concrete steps such as the issuance of visas on arrival for citizens from AU member states, as a demonstration of the country's commitment towards the Free Movement of People Protocol as an integral component of the AfCFTA."
Faki also commended Ethiopia's "key contribution and leadership" in promoting the Single African Air Transport Market.
Mamo Mihretu, Senior Advisor and Chief Trade Negotiator in the Prime Minister's Office, said while depositing the ratification that the East African country's ratification was "a historic occasion, marking the first ever free trade agreement Ethiopia has ever signed."
Mihretu further assured that "Ethiopia intends to continue playing an active role in the roll-out of the AfCFTA."
Noting that the ratification process is currently "at an advanced stage," the AU also stressed that more AU member countries "will deposit instruments of ratification by the time the Assembly convenes its mid-year coordination meeting in July this year in Niamey, Niger."
The continental free trade pact, which was signed by 44 African countries when it was launched in Kigali, capital of Rwanda, in March 2018, aspires to create a tariff-free continent that can grow local businesses, boost intra-African trade, spur industrialization and create more jobs.
According to the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the AfCFTA, if ratified by all the 55 African countries, will be regarded as the world's largest free trade zone by the number of countries, covering more than 1.2 billion people with a combined GDP of 2.5 trillion U.S. dollars.
Once operational, the African free trade accord is also projected to boost the level of intra-Africa trade by in excess of 52 percent by the year 2020, according to figures from the ECA.