44 African nations sign pact establishing free trade area

44 African nations sign pact establishing free trade area
The African Heads of States and Governments pose during African Union (AU) Summit for the agreement to establish the African Continental Free Trade Area in Kigali, Rwanda, on March 21, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 21 March 2018

44 African nations sign pact establishing free trade area

44 African nations sign pact establishing free trade area

KIGALI, Rwanda: Forty-four African countries have signed an agreement establishing a free trade area seen as vital to the continent’s economic development, the head of the African Union said Wednesday.
The creation of a free trade area — billed as the world’s largest in terms of participating countries — comes after two years of negotiations, and is one of the AU’s flagship projects for greater African integration.
“The agreement establishing the CFTA (African Continental Free Trade Area) was signed by 44 countries,” said Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the AU commission.
However, the agreement will still have to be ratified at a national level, and is only due to come into force in 180 days.
Nigeria is notably absent from the signatories after President Muhammadu Buhari pulled out of this week’s launch in Rwanda saying he needed more time for consultations at home.
One of Africa’s largest markets, Nigeria hesitated after objections from business leaders and unions — a sign that getting the deal through scores of national parliaments may face several hurdles.
“Some countries have reservations and have not finalized their national consultations. But we shall have another summit in Mauritania in July where we expect countries with reservations to also sign,” said Albert Muchanga, the AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry.
However other economic powerhouses South Africa, Kenya, Morocco, Egypt, Ethiopia and Algeria — known for strict protectionist policies restricting imports and exports — did sign the deal.
If all 55 African Union members eventually sign up, it will create a bloc with a cumulative GDP of $2.5 trillion (2 trillion euros) and cover a market of 1.2 billion people.
Currently, African countries only do about 16 percent of their business with each other, the smallest amount of intra-regional trade compared to Latin America, Asia, North America and Europe.
And with average tariffs of 6.1 percent, businesses currently pay higher tariffs when they export within Africa than when they export outside it, according to the AU.
“If we remove customs and duties by 2022, the level of intra-African trade will increase by 60 percent, which is very, very significant,” Muchanga told AFP in an interview before the summit.
Proponents of the deal argue that African economies on their own are too small to support economic diversification and industrialization on their own and will benefit from having a unified platform to negotiate trade deals with wealthier nations.
The “CFTA will make Africa one of the largest economies in the world and enhance its capacity to interact on equal terms with other international economic blocs,” said Faki in a speech before the signing ceremony.
“The world is changing, and changing at a great speed. International competition is fierce. It leaves no room for the weak.”
However, critics highlight a dearth of roads and other infrastructure linking different African nations, as well as the fact that many countries do not manufacture goods their neighbors may want to import, as challenges to the deal.
Sola Afolabi, a Nigeria-based international trade consultant, told AFP the fact already-existing regional trade blocs were not working, should be a red flag.
“If there is no reward for compliance and there is no punishment for non-compliance, then it is going to be a very nice agreement without any teeth or any legs,” he said.
Faki acknowledged that Africans “have seen so many proclamations remain a dead letter, so many commitments without practical execution that they have come to doubt the strength of our commitment.”
He urged for a break in this trend, calling for a deal that “must confound those who, outside Africa, continue to think — with barely-concealed condescension — that our decisions will never materialize.”
The CFTA is a key part of the AU’s long-term development plan Agenda 2063, which calls for easing trade and travel across the continent.
At its most recent summit in Ethiopia in January, AU member states agreed to a common air transport market that could drive down airfares, as well as plans for visa-free travel for Africans across the continent.
Also on Wednesday, 27 countries signed the protocol agreeing to the free movement of persons across the continent.


Lebanon must fix debts, end prosecutor action or face power cut, says Turkish firm

Lebanon must fix debts, end prosecutor action or face power cut, says Turkish firm
Updated 9 min 27 sec ago

Lebanon must fix debts, end prosecutor action or face power cut, says Turkish firm

Lebanon must fix debts, end prosecutor action or face power cut, says Turkish firm
  • Turkey’s Karadeniz supplies electricity to Lebanon from power barges

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s Karadeniz, which supplies electricity to Lebanon from power barges, told Beirut to halt action by the Lebanese prosecutor to seize its vessels and said it must draw up a plan to settle arrears to avoid a cut in supplies, a spokesperson said.
The spokesperson for Karpowership, a unit of Karadeniz that operates floating power plants, was speaking on Tuesday after Lebanon’s Finance Ministry cited a lawmaker saying the country had been threatened with a cut to its supplies.
A Lebanese prosecutor issued a decision last week to seize the barges and fine the firm after TV channel Al-Jadeed reported corruption allegations tied to the power contract. The firm denies the charges and says it has not been paid for 18 months.


Suez Canal boss reveals expansion plans as revenues jump on trade rebound

Suez Canal boss reveals expansion plans as revenues jump on trade rebound
Updated 29 min 25 sec ago

Suez Canal boss reveals expansion plans as revenues jump on trade rebound

Suez Canal boss reveals expansion plans as revenues jump on trade rebound
  • Revenues rose almost 16 percent in April to $551million

RIYADH: Suez Canal revenues rose almost 16 percent in April to $551 million compared to a year earlier, Asharq Business reported, citing Suez Canal Authority Chairman Osama Rabie.
Rabie also discussed plans to expand and deepen the southern sector of the canal in which the container ship Ever Given was stuck in March, creating chaos across the global supply chain.
That incident which brought a large proportion of seaborne trade to a near halt for a week, highlighted the need to ensure the  smooth operation of the key trade artery.
Rabie also revealed plans for dredging works for the maintenance of the navigational channel of the canal.
A plan is being implemented to restructure the authority’s companies, he said.
This year witnessed a slight increase in the number of ships passing through the waterway to 1,840 in April 2021 from 1,731 in April 2020, Al Arabiya reported.


Egypt jobless rate rises amid pandemic second wave

Egypt jobless rate rises amid pandemic second wave
Updated 20 min 44 sec ago

Egypt jobless rate rises amid pandemic second wave

Egypt jobless rate rises amid pandemic second wave
  • The size of the workforce was estimated at 29,284 million, compared to 29,965 million during the previous quarter

RIYADH: Egypt’s unemployment rate reached 7.4 percent of the total labor force in the first quarter of 2021 — up from 7.2 percent in the previous quarter.
The new data from the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), reflects the impact of the second wave of the pandemic.
The size of the workforce was estimated at 29,284 million, compared to 29,965 million during the previous quarter, representing a decrease of 2.3 percent, Al Arabiya reported.
The labor force in urban areas reached 13,034 million, with 16,250 million living in rural areas.
Gehan Saleh, economic affairs adviser to Egypt’s prime minister said in April that the second stage of the country’s economic reform program would be launched soon.
She said the plan aims to improve the quality of life of citizens and tackle unemployment through job-creating investments.


Smugglers post gold from Dubai to India hidden in Tang

Smugglers post gold from Dubai to India hidden in Tang
Updated 11 May 2021

Smugglers post gold from Dubai to India hidden in Tang

Smugglers post gold from Dubai to India hidden in Tang
  • It is the latest ruse by smugglers trying to avoid hefty import duties for the precious metal by employing increasingly intriguing methods

DUBAI: Indian customs have foiled an attempt to post gold from Dubai disguised in containers of the popular Tang drink.

After sieving the contents of the drink mix, Chennai customs officials discovered it had been mixed with gold granules, according to a statement from the Commissioner of Customs at Chennai International Airport.
Officials probing the racket found that the address of the receiver had been misused.
It is the latest ruse by smugglers trying to avoid hefty import duties for the precious metal by employing increasingly intriguing methods.
Earlier this year officials at Chennai airport also nabbed two men trying to smuggle gold through the airport underneath their wigs.
The hapless pair were nabbed after their unusual hairstyles caught the attention of officials.

They were found to be carrying two gold paste packets weighing almost 700 g


UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal

UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal
Updated 11 May 2021

UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal

UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal
  • The move signals Helios Towers’ entry to the Middle East market as a major tower infrastructure provider

DUBAI: British telecommunications company Helios Towers has signed a deal with Omantel to acquire 2,890 sites for $575 million from the sultanate’s largest mobile network operator.
The move signals Helios Towers’ entry to the Middle East market as a major tower infrastructure provider.
The deal is expected to bring in a $59 million bump in revenues in the first full year of operations.
It also involves a $35 million plan to add 300 new build-to-suit sites over the next seven years.
“We view Oman as a very attractive and supportive market for foreign investments, with strong growth and exciting future prospects,” the UK-based company’s chief Kash Pandya said in a statement.
He said the acquisition strengthens its business through “further hard-currency revenues and diversification” in what the CEO described as the fastest growing markets in the region.
“We look forward to working with Omantel and the other MNOs over the coming years to further develop next generation mobile infrastructure solutions and services in Oman,” he added.
The partnership reflects Oman’s FDI aspirations, Omantel CEO Tala Said Al-Mamari said, adding it will create jobs and opportunities in the country.
“This move also allows the monetization of our towers at attractive valuation levels, de-lever our balance sheet, and will accelerate network development in next generation advanced technologies,” he noted.
He said it would allow Omantel’s management to focus on innovation and product development while outsourcing infrastructure management to an independent firm.
The transaction will close by the end of 2021, and the long-term partnership will last for an initial period of 15 years.