UNITED NATIONS, Mar. 23 (Xinhua) -- United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday that the singing of a continental free trade agreement in Africa "is an important step towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and delivering on the African agenda of peace and prosperity."
In a congratulation statement, Guterres also underscored that the entire UN system stands ready to support the continent as it moves towards the entry into force of the Free Trade Area in the coming months.
The leaders of 44 African countries signed a deal to create one of the world's largest free trade area in Rwandan capital Kigali on Wednesday.
According to the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the UN's development arm in the region, the agreement has the potential both to boost intra-African trade by 52.3 percent by eliminating import duties, and to double this trade if non-tariff barriers are also reduced.
It is expected that the key beneficiaries from the Free Trade Area will be Africa's small- and medium-sized enterprises, which account for 80 percent of the region's businesses.
Africa's industrial development and proposed continental free trade would complement each other, Guterres noted.
He also highlighted the importance of making strategic investments in cross-border infrastructure, promoting green technologies and low-carbon solutions, fostering small and medium enterprises, and forging partnerships to spur innovation and create incentives to push forward sustainable growth.