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Africa's continental FTA complements China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative: officials

by Shiferaw Tadesse

ADDIS ABABA, May 10 (Xinhua) -- The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) complements the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative in facilitating trade and cooperation among different countries, a senior African Union (AU) official said here on Thursday.

The AfCFTA and the Belt and Road Initiative are complementary as both focus on infrastructure development and connectivity toward facilitating trade and cooperation among countries, AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry Albert Muchanga told Xinhua after attending a ceremony whereby Kenya and Ghana deposited documents with the (AU) of ratification toward establishing the AfCFTA.

Proposed by China in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. It is aimed at achieving policy, infrastructure, trade, financial and people-to-people connectivity, building a new platform for international cooperation, and creating new drivers of shared development to benefit more countries and people.

Years of efforts by the African Union toward a continental free trade area bore fruit in March, when 44 of the AU's 55 member states of the Pan-African bloc signed the AfCFTA at an extraordinary summit in Kigali, Rwanda.

Kenya and Ghana are the first two countries that ratified the agreement. A minimum of 22 countries are needed for the AfCFTA to come into force.

The AU commissioner expressed hope that that threshold could be cleared in the coming nine to 12 months.

The AfCTFA complements the Belt and Road Initiative with transport, telecommunication interlinkages across the continent, Muchanga said.

"We are building railways. We are building roads. We are building airlines (airports). We are also building communication interlinkages among others," he said.

The year 2000 saw the initiation of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), a structured cooperation mechanism between China and African countries on different areas.

China will host the next FOCAC summit in September.

Sino-African trade and partnership is increasing, and the upcoming FOCAC summit would review such cooperation, the AU commissioner said.

Catherine Muigai Mwangi, Kenyan ambassador to Ethiopia and permanent representative to the AU, said African countries have been enjoying partnership and cooperation with China, particularly through the FOCAC platform.

Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative, which focuses on infrastructure development and connectivity among countries for mutual benefit, helps Africa realize its integration agenda, the ambassador said.

Africa cooperates with China, focusing on priority projects that have continental impact, Mwangi said.

"For instance, you want to develop infrastructure that connects countries. If you focus on infrastructure that is within a country, it doesn't promote integration," she said. "So you want cross-border infrastructure that connects from country to country. That's when we will be able to move people, move goods, and thereby attain true integration."


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