The implementation of an Africa-wide free-trade agreement won’t proceed on July 1 as planned due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak, according to the zone’s most senior official.

“The Covid-19 situation has caused a major disruption,” Wamkele Mene, secretary-general of the African Continental Free Trade Area, said by text message. “Governments are now engaged in a fight against the pandemic,” he added, without elaborating further.

Legally, the agreement is already in force, but in order to have made the July deadline for the start of trade in goods and services under the new tariff rules, several details needed to be ironed out as part of phase one of the process.

The African Union was scheduled to have an extraordinary summit in Johannesburg next month to finalise the agreement, but with South Africa still under restrictions that have closed conference facilities and prohibit public gatherings, it’s unclear whether meeting will go ahead.

“We are waiting for the assembly to pronounce a new date” for the implementation, Mene said.

The trade pact could cover a market of 1.2 billion people with a combined gross domestic product of $2.5 trillion, making it the world’s largest free-trade zone.

Among other things, it aims to lower or eliminate cross-border tariffs on 90% of goods, facilitate the movement of capital and people, promote investment and pave the way for the establishment of a continent-wide customs union.

Reuters first reported the delay.


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