ADDIS ABABA, May 31 (Xinhua) -- A senior African Union (AU) official on Friday called for deepening Africa-China collaboration to contribute to the success of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement, which took effect on Thursday.
"Africa is more ready than ever" to further strengthen cooperation with China, with particular emphasis given to infrastructure connectivity in Africa, which is "highly important" for trade facilitation under the continental free trade agreement, AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry Albert Muchanga told Xinhua.
"Under the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement, we have an action plan toward boosting intra-Africa trade," Muchanga said. "The action plan has a cluster on trade-related infrastructure development in Africa, which aspires infrastructure connectivity in all corners of Africa."
Noting that infrastructure development "is part and parcel" of the free trade pact," the AU commissioner stressed that the African continent "needs large scale infrastructure projects in order to allow AU member countries to reach out to the market that the AfCFTA aspires to create."
According to Muchanga, China and Africa, which are currently cooperating in various sectors, including in the development of infrastructure projects across the continent, are expected to further expedite their engagements in a bid to realize the promises of AfCFTA.
"We are now working with the government of China to ensure that we connect the whole of Africa to facilitate trade on continental, regional, and sub-regional levels," he said.
Muchanga also reiterated that the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a catalyst to spur China-Africa cooperation to accelerate the AU's ambitious infrastructure connectivity drive.
The AfCFTA Agreement was approved by 22 countries last month, meeting the threshold for it to take effect. It has laid the foundation for what could be the world's largest free trade zone by the number of participating countries, covering more than 1.2 billion people with a combined gross domestic product of 2.5 trillion U.S. dollars.
On Thursday, Liu Yuxi, head of the Chinese Mission to the AU, told Xinhua that the African free trade pact will help forge closer economic and trade ties with China.
China welcomes progress in building the free trade area, support Africa to advance interconnectivity and is ready to work with Africa to promote the free trade regime, Liu said.
"Unimpeded trade and facilities connectivity are the core content of the joint construction of the Belt and Road by China and Africa," Liu said. "The two sides are expected to build closer economic and trade ties by developing the free trade area and promoting the Belt and Road cooperation."
China has been Africa's biggest trading partner for 10 consecutive years, with an accumulated investment of over 110 billion dollars in the continent.
China has signed memorandums of understanding with 39 African countries and the AU Commission on cooperation under the BRI framework.
Also on Thursday, AU Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy Amani Abou-Zeid also stressed the positive prospects of deepening partnership between Africa and China.
"Africa and China believe that Africa is an important partner in the Belt and Road cooperation," Abou-Zeid told the Belt and Road Dialogue for China-Africa Cooperation, which was jointly organized by the AU and the Chinese Mission to the AU, in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa.
"We look forward to working closely and diligently with China under the Belt and Road Initiative to enhance the envisaged infrastructure connectivity as well as people to people connectivity for the good of our two peoples and the world at large," she said.
Once operational, the African free trade accord is projected to boost the level of intra-Africa trade by more than 52 percent by the year 2020, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.