Touted as the world’s largest single market in terms of the number of member nations, Africa’s ambitious blueprint for free trade kicks into gear on January 1, bringing together more than 50 economies from Algeria to South Africa. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was supposed to become technically operational months ago, but the launch was delayed by complications blamed on the coronavirus pandemic and the slow pace of negotiations. But disappointment lies in wait to anyone hoping that African trade will enjoy a barrier-free Big Bang come New Year’s Day. Jakkie Cilliers, head of African Futures and Innovation at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, says it will be a long way before tariffs are scrapped, red tape is slashed and much-trumpeted gains are realised. A brainchild of the African Union, AfCFTA has been signed and ratified by all 55 AU states except Eritrea since its ceremonial birth in July 2019 after 17 years of haggling. Internal trade within the continent of 1.2 billion people currently stands at a meagre 16 percent, while 65 percent of their commerce is with European countries. AfCFTA’s plan is to boost intra-African trade by 60 percent by 2034 by eliminating almost all tariffs, creating an economic bloc of $3.4 trillion. If fully implemented, the AfCFTA will lift 30 million Africans out of extreme poverty and 70 million from moderate poverty, according to World Bank estimates. But in an interview with AFP, Cilliers cautioned about the grinding task of scrapping duties and other impediments to trade.