Some of the African leaders attending the 12th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of African Union Heads of State and Government in Niamey, Niger.

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The operational phase of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) has been launched today, Sunday 7th July, in the 12th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of African Union Heads of State and Government in Niamey, Niger Republic.

Tens of head of states are gathered in Niamey to witness the official rollout of the landmark agreement, which has received a huge boost as Nigeria and Benin signed to become the latest member countries to join.

This leaves Eritrea as the only country not to have joined the continental trade deal, which was agreed upon at the 18th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU in January 2012, with a tentative launch date of 2017.

In his speech at the official opening ceremony of the 35th Ordinary Session of the Executive Council in Niamey, AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat said the AfCFTA was the continent’s standout project geared to ensure the realization of Agenda 2063.

“It goes without saying that the most emblematic of the flagship projects of Agenda 2063 is the African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA. The AfCFTA has the ambition…… in the final analysis, to establish a continental market. The idea goes back to 1963, with the establishment of an African Economic Community,” he said.

Sunday’s launch of the AfCFTA follows the coming into force of the trade area on the 30th of May, after the deposit of the required minimum of 22 ratifications by member states of the AU. Since then three more instruments of ratification have been deposited, bring the total number of countries that have ratified the AfCFTA to 25.

African countries are expected to benefit widely from the AfCFTA, which will in turn boost the continent’s economic levels.

The agreement is expected to create a market for over one billion people, with a GDP of approximately US$2.6 trillion.

According to Dr. Carlos Lopes, an AUC High Representative, the AfCFTA will pull the continent closer to the levels hit by Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Dr. Lopes believes that the deal will provide a much-needed unity of purpose, which will give Africa a better negotiating chip with other regions in the world.

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