“But one of the rare bright spots in intra-African trade is the fact that 42 per cent of it is made up of manufactured or processed goods,” says Lopes.

AfCFTA is meant to eliminate 90 per cent of tariffs and create a single market with free movement of goods and services. Fifty-two countries have signed up, although Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, is holding out under pressure from its powerful manufacturers’ lobby and labour groups. Eight active and overlapping regional trading blocs will also need to be harmonised. “What we are telling member states is that if you look at the history of the African economies, they are small and they are fragmented,” says Albert Muchanga, the African Union’s trade commissioner. This is one of the central barriers to growth that AfCFTA seeks to eliminate, Muchanga notes.

Facing trade challenges

Here are some of the central challenges the agreement seeks to address.