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The newly-adopted continental free trade treaty of the African Union could help reduce gun violence and other armed conflicts across the continent, an official prescribed on Thursday.

Albert Muchanga, AU commissioner for trade and industry, said the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) adopted in 2018 could enhance developmental policies and help silence the guns across the continent.

“The advocates of free trade have long argued that its benefits are not merely economic,” Mr Muchanga said at a press briefing Thursday night as part of the ongoing 33rd African Union Summit in Addis Ababa.

“They also point out that free trade reduces the possibilities of war by making nations more economically interdependent.

“Free trade makes it more profitable for people of one nation to produce goods and services for people of another nation,” he added.

Mr Muchanga’s comments were tailored towards this year’s theme of the annual continental summit: “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development’, which has been underway at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa.

A series of largely unchecked attacks has left hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced across the continent, creating an enduring humanitarian crisis. The AU refugee office said on Friday that over $100 million has been budgeted for displaced people on the continent this year.

The AfCFTA was adopted as a continent-wide policy for economic development in 2018. A few countries that did not initially sign up to the policy, including Nigeria, have since done so, opening the path for a coherent, broad-based implementation.

Mr Muchanga said a thorough implementation of the policy, for which modalities are currently being drafted, would play positively into this year’s aim of reducing armed conflict in Africa.

READ ALSO: AU Summit opens with focus on reducing armed conflict

“Poverty and unemployment are some of the key factors that generate social and political tensions,” the commissioner said. “If left to linger, it can transform into tensions and conflicts.”

No fewer than 54 of the 55 AU member states have signed the AfCFTA economic pact, with 28 countries already announced ratification by their respective parliaments.

Policymakers at the AU commission have commenced efforts to open a secretariat in one of the member countries that would help draft instruments to drive the policy — on which the continent’s economic aspirations now hang.

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