Accessibility links

Central African Leaders to Establish Free Trade Zone


Central African governments have decided to create a free trade zone as part of an effort to boost the region's economy.

At a two-day summit, which ended Tuesday in the Congolese capital, Brazzaville, heads of state from the 11-member countries of the Economic Community of Central African States agreed to set up a free trade zone by the end of 2007.

Leaders said they are hoping to build a network of roads and an interlocked power grid.

The free trade agreement would also allow freedom of movement for government officials, students, religious leaders and business people within the community. Several countries had reservations about complete freedom of movement, which is why the categories of people who would benefit are so limited.

The grouping also said it plans to develop a common agricultural policy by 2008.

Seven of the 11 member countries - including Rwanda, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Chad, the Central African Republic and Angola - have just come out of murderous civil wars that have left their economies in tatters. An attempted coup in another member country, Sao Tome and Principe, last year sparked panic among foreign investors and hurt the country's oil-exploration program.

Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso says central African leaders are hoping to meet with the World Bank soon to get the lending institution involved in the region's economic recovery.

He says international bodies help out countries in most other parts of the world during post-war reconstruction. He says one good idea for Central Africa would be drastic debt reduction.

Other topics discussed at the summit included promoting good governance and democracy, as part of the Africa-wide economic rescue plan, known as NEPAD, the New Partnership for Africa's Development. International donors have promised help to those countries that demonstrate respect for human rights, hold free and fair elections and improve transparency in government spending.

President of the Central African Republic, General Francois Bozize, who took power in a coup last year, said he will abide by these standards. He says he is working hard to restore justice, freedom and democracy after several years of what he calls inept rule by a democratically elected, but corrupt government.

Congolese President Sassou Nguesso said not all coups deserve condemnation. He said the most important issue is good governance and that elections alone do not prevent abuse of power. If a government is efficient, he said, it should be defended.

Altogether, the 11 countries of central Africa have a combined population of over 110 million people. Only three of its member countries - Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon - have not been at war in recent years.

XS
SM
MD
LG