Free trade theory is about to be put to a large-scale empirical test:
South Africa’s and Togo’s parliaments this month ratified the agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The total number of countries committing to the deal has thus grown to 49.
Once the agreement comes into effect, it will create a tariff-free continent, covering a single market of 1.2 billion people in 55 nations with a combined gross domestic product of about $3 trillion. It will constitute the largest free trade area globally, according to South African Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies.
The agreement is expected to reduce export tariffs which currently average 6.1 percent, and boost intra-African trade by more than 52 percent after import duties are eliminated. It is focused on diversifying trade exports away from just extractives and enhancing the chances of small and medium enterprises to tap into more regional destinations.
Economists say that tariff-free access to a huge and unified market will encourage manufacturers and service providers to leverage economies of scale.
If the free traders are right, the African economy is about to explode with trade, economic growth, and rising per capita incomes. If the biologists are right, none of this will make a damn bit of difference, as the biological limits of the populations will outweigh any structural improvements.
Of course, all of this is probably irrelevant, as the conspiracy theorists who believe China is going to colonize Africa and put blacks on reservations in imitation of the European treatment of the North American continent are the most likely to be correct.