Botswana has welcomed the establishment of an African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) aimed at creating one African market by appending its signature at the just-ended Africa Union Summit.
Zambia also signed the AfCFTA at the same event. Botswana and Zambia were among the countries that had not signed the AfCFTA following its establishment on 21 March 2018 in Rwanda, Kigali. The delay was largely attributed to negotiations on some of the protocols of the AfCFTA, as the countries wanted to consult stakeholders before appending.
Briefing journalists upon his return from the just-ended AU Summit, Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi said he signed the agreement in the presence of African Union Commission chairperson, Moussa Faki, and outgoing AU chairperson, Paul Kagame. He said the agreement would give Batswana the opportunity to “benefit from inter-regional trade within the African continent, and greatly contribute to the growth and diversification of our country’s economy.
“We have received the documents so that we can rectify the agreement,” he said.
Masisi said Botswana recognises the importance of the agreement as one that will liberalise trade of both goods and services for all African countries. The AfCFTA aims to create a market of 1.2 billion people and a gross domestic product of US$2.5 trillion, across all AU member states.
The Continental Free Trade Agreement would provide Botswana access to the African market estimated at 1.6 billion people in 55 countries. This means a wider and increased market access for Botswana exports; among which are live animals, beef, salt, vaccines for veterinary medicine, minerals and leather products.
Reports indicate that the AfCFTA envisages the liberalisation of both trade in goods and services in the first phase of negotiations, and will extend to investment, competition policy and intellectual property in the second phase. The decision to establish the AfCFTA was taken during the eighteenth Assembly of Heads of State and Government in 2012 when the Heads of State and Government decided to establish a Pan-Africa Continental Free Trade Area by 2017.
According to Zambia News and Information Services, Zambian President Edgar Lungu said the country would now work towards ratifying the AfCFTA.
Zambia is already in wide free trade areas through the 16-member SADC and the 21-member Comesa trading blocs. But in a statement issued by the first press secretary at the Zambian mission in Addis Ababa after the signing, Inutu Mwanza said,
“The AfCFTA will help resolve the challenges of multiple and overlapping memberships and expedite the regional and continental integration processes. It will also help to enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level through exploiting opportunities for scale production, continental market access and better reallocation of resources.”
Meanwhile, Botswana has ended a decade-long snub of the continental gathering by the previous leader of the southern Africa nation. Former president Ian Khama, who religiously attended wildlife conferences and other similar meetings whenever invited, never attended any AU meeting since taking office in 2008.
For 10 years, Khama, who stepped down in April last year, would delegate the foreign affairs minister and his vice president to attend AU summits on his behalf.
Masisi used the AU summit to append his signature to the memorandum of understanding with the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). In so doing, Botswana has become the 38th country to become member of the mechanism.
“Botswana has always believed in good practices especially when it borders on issues concerning good governance and stands to gain a lot from countries that are members of the APRM.”
The APRM was introduced in 2003 as a mutually agreed instrument to which member nations of the African Union voluntarily sign up as a self-monitoring mechanism. The mechanism is to encourage conformity with political, economic and corporate governance values among member states.