Government representatives at the African Union Summit have pledged to establish a free-trade agreement (FTA) for continental Africa by 2017, aiming to boost the continent’s economy through internal trade.

In its ‘Assessing Regional Integration in Africa’ report, the African Union says: “The creation of a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business people and investments, will help bring closer the continental customs union and African common market.

“The single market will also help expand intra-African trade through better harmonising and co-ordinating trade liberalisation and facilitation regimes among Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and throughout Africa (…) thus unlocking the inter-REC trade potential across the continent.”

The African Development Bank (AfDB), also present at the event, said it would assist countries in implementing the infrastructure needed to establish the FTA.

AfDB president Donald Kaberuka expressed confidence about the potential for the FTA to boost intra-African trade to international export levels, but warned that “soft infrastructure” constraints such as restrictive regulations and limited access to trade finance, also needed to be addressed.

“Soft infrastructure constraints can be as pervasive as tariffs at the border, and can easily nullify the competitiveness and efficiency gains derived from investments in physical infrastructure,” Kaberuka said.