by Habtamu Liben
NIAMEY, July 5 (Xinhua) -- Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, on Friday hailed the upcoming launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) as a "historic" and "remarkable" achievement for Africa's integration ambition.
"It goes without saying that the most emblematic of the flagship projects of Agenda 2063 is the African Continental Free Trade Area," Faki told African foreign ministers who make up the AU's Executive Council.
The ministers are meeting here in Niamey, capital of Niger, in preparations for the 12th Extraordinary Summit of the AU Heads of State and Government, which will launch the "operational phase" of AfCFTA on Sunday, July 7.
The extraordinary summit of the 55-member pan-African bloc, which opened on Thursday, will last through Monday, July 8.
The idea of establishing a single African market "goes back to 1963, with the establishment of an African Economic Community," Faki said.
The launch of the AfCFTA follows the coming into force of the trade area on May 30, after the deposit of the required minimum of 22 instruments of ratification by AU member states to the AU Commission.
Three more instruments of ratification have since been deposited, bringing the total number of countries that have deposited their AfCFTA ratification to the AU Commission to 25.
"With the launch of the operational phase from July 2019, traders across Africa will be able to make use of preferential trading arrangements offered by the AfCFTA, with the understanding that the trade transactions are among the member states that have deposited the instruments of ratification and those that conform to the provisions on rules of origin governing trade in the AfCFTA," the AU Commission chairperson said.
Faki reiterated the AU's "strong commitment" to strengthening the implementation of the free trade pact and "to take immediate measures to ensure the recommendations of the internal and external auditors are implemented and enforced."
"On a broader level, the African Union meeting in Niamey is considering other issues under the institutional reform program that will allow the Union to achieve the vision and goals of its Agenda 2063 development framework," he said.
The official launch of the AfCFTA in Niamey is part of a series of statutory and technical meetings being held in the Nigerien capital, including the first coordination meeting between the AU and the Regional Economic Communities on the final day of the meeting on Monday, it was noted.
According to the AU, the AfCFTA "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 dollars."
Once operational, the African free trade accord is also 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.