African countries began officially trading under a new continent-wide free trade area on Friday (1 January), after months of delays caused by the global coronavirus pandemic.

But experts view the New Year’s Day launch as largely symbolic with full implementation of the deal expected to take years.

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) aims to bring together 1.3 billion people in a $3.4 trillion economic bloc that will be the largest free trade area since the establishment of the World Trade Organization.

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