In an interview with the Guardian recently during the 12th Summit of the African Union that was held in Niamey, Niger El-Sisi said Africa’s integration is no longer a matter of choice. Against an international backdrop of changing political and economic priorities, Africa must plot a new course for its industrialisation and economic development, using the momentum of regional integration.
For Africa, a vast continent of over 1.2 billion people, integration has considerable potential not only for promoting robust and equitable economic growth through markets, but also for reducing conflict and enhancing trade liberalisation.
"We must understand that we still have a long road and that industrial integration between African countries demands a great effort," El-Sisi told the Guardian.
During his speech, the Egyptian president called on all African countries to ratify the AfCFTA agreement.
"The more countries sign and implement the agreement, the more the benefits which will be gained from of liberalizing trade for African peoples."
President El-Sisi explained that despite the activation of AfCFTA, which will be one of the biggest trade zones of the world with a gross domestic product of $3.4 trillion, the member countries still have to acknowledge that there is a long way to go to implement the agreement and reap its benefits.
El-Sisi said that more effort is needed to liberalise trade in commodities and services, while providing the necessary insurance and creating a favourable investment climate.
He pointed at the importance of continued talks for the agreement's second phase, which intends to achieve the continent's goals for development and progress.
"We will work on reviewing a vision for the executive stage [of the agreement] to boost intraregional trade and remove customs and non-customs obstacles," he said.
He added that the member countries "will present the progress accomplished in complementary trade negotiations, the aim of which is to issue the necessary decisions to overcome hurdles which face us in our path to achieve the agreement's goals."
According to reports Regional integration is often seen as less relevant for resource-rich countries, since demand for commodities typically comes from the global market rather than from regional demand.
Regional integration in Africa, however, can play a vital role in diversifying economies away from dependence on the export of just a few mineral products; in delivering food and energy security; in generating jobs for the increasing number of young people; and in alleviating poverty and delivering shared prosperity.
Therefore to accelerate the integration, the priority of economic integration must be balanced by those of social, cultural and political integration. Policy instruments, especially for overlapping REC member nations, need to be harmonised. Currently, weak enforcement of existing treaties and non-tariff barriers continue to hinder free movement of goods, services and persons across borders.
According to reports with Nigeria and Benin's signatures, 54 of the 55 AU member countries have now signed onto the deal, with Eritrea the only holdout.
Around 4,500 delegates and guests – including 32 heads of state and more than 100 ministers – attended the AU summit in Niamey.