The excitement was felt across the region as the dream of a continental free trade area in Africa received the final ratification it needed to become a reality on Monday.
Gambia was the 22nd African country to ratify the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which means the law now includes the minimum number of ratifications required to enter into force.
On March 21, Ethiopia was one of the last African nations to ratify the AfCFTA, increasing the number of countries in favor to 21.
The trade bloc of 49 countries, with a combined GDP of $ 3 billion, will facilitate interregional trade, promote growth and help fight poverty, say its proponents.
The news was tweeted by African Union Commissioner for Trade and Industry Albert Muchanga:
“Good news! The Gambian Parliament has approved ratification of the # AFCFTA agreement that will allow us to reach the minimum threshold.
“The AfCFTA market is born and is one step ready for the start of its operating phase in July of this year.
The agreement, signed by 49 of the 55 African Union states last March, will evade a patchwork of trade regulations and tariffs that make intra-African trade costly, time-consuming and cumbersome.
Promoting duty-free movement of goods, people and services across the continent should also benefit SMEs, which account for 80% of African employment and 50% of GDP, according to the World Bank.
Skeptics, however, have pointed to the challenges ahead of uniting countries with the greatest income gaps between them under the umbrella of a trade bloc.
For example, over 50 percent of the cumulative GDP of Africa is contributed by Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa, while the six sovereign island states of Africa together contribute only 1 percent.
The motion was made before the Gambia Parliament by Lamin Jobe, Gambia’s Trade Minister, who highlighted the trade benefits of deeper regional integration:
“This document will definitely serve as a starting point to improve the free movement of people, goods and services.
“By leveraging this, we can get many benefits from implementing this agreement,” he said.