January 5, 2021 – The first goods will begin to flow under a 55-nation Africa-wide free-trade pact on Friday, the culmination of more than five years of negotiations on cutting cross-border tariffs. Africa could be the world’s biggest free-trade zone by area when its treaty becomes fully operational by 2030. The bloc has a potential market of 1.2 billion people and a combined gross domestic product of $2.5 trillion. The accord “will fundamentally change the economic fortunes of our continent,” South African Presdent Cyril Ramaphosa, who holds the AU’s rotating chairmanship, said in a speech last week. “It is the start of a new era of trade between African countries, when the continent will produce the goods and services it needs, when its economies will grow, industrialize and diversify, when it will realize the great potential of its abundant natural resources.”