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AU summit launches continental FTA talks

African Union (AU) leaders on Tuesday wrapped up their biannual summit after endorsing a 10-year implementation plan for the continent's long-term development vision.

Dubbed "Agenda 2063," the vision paints a desired picture of integrated, prosperous, and peaceful Africa. The first 10-year implementation plan is committed to facilitating free movements of goods, services, and people while calling for regional investments in value chains and for promoting "Made in Africa" products.

As a measure to tackle trade protectionism, the AU launched its Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) negotiations, seeking to establish free movement of goods and services among African states.

The AU has set 2017 as the time for the implementation of CFTA, under which African states are expected to reduce trade barriers among themselves by drastically reducing export and import duties and waiving visa requirements in some cases.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, the chair of the AU, hailed the start of CFTA negotiations.

The CFTA negotiations came just days after the signing of a Tripartite Free Trade Agreement (TFTA) that covers more than 650 million people in 26 countries with combined gross domestic product amounting to 60 percent of Africa's total. TFTA will become effective once parliaments had adopted it.

"It (the launch of TFTA) was a 'major turning point' for Africa," said Donald Kaberuka, outgoing president of the African Development Bank.

For TFTA to become successful, Kaberuka said all non-tariff barriers must be removed while free movement of business people and bona fide travelers must be ensured.

Apart from CFTA, Mugabe said the leaders would soon implement some flagship projects of the 10-year plan such as the high-speed train, the African Center for Disease Control and the Pan-African University.

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