AU approves start of African Continental Free Trade Area training

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African leaders at a summit today have approved that trading should start on 1 January next year as scheduled on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement and requested African financial institutions to provide technical and financial support for its implementation.

“We call on women, youth, businesses, trade unions, civil society, cross border traders, the academia, the African Diaspora and other stakeholders to join us as governments in this historic endeavour of creating the Africa we want in line with the African Union Agenda 2063,” the leaders said in a declaration at the end of their 13th extraordinary summit of the member-states held virtually today.

The leaders re-affirmed their resolve to deepen continental integration through the AfCFTA and commended the contribution of the African Ministers of Trade for the preparations toward the launch of trading on 1 January 2021.

Speaking while opening the meeting, the African Union Chairperson and South Africa’s President Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa said the commencement of trading would be one of the “most significant milestones” in the continental integration project and the clearest affirmation yet that Africa is determined to take charge of its own destiny.

Mr. Ramaphosa described the AfCFTA as the great edifice that holds Africa’s collective dreams and aspirations for an integrated and prosperous continent. “The AfCFTA will boost intra-African trade, it will promote industrialization and competitiveness and contribute to job creation, and it will unleash regional value chains that will facilitate Africa’s meaningful integration into the global economy,” he said.

According to him, the AfCFTA should be used to advance the empowerment of Africa’s women, which is one of the most important objectives of continental body’s Agenda 2063 as improving women’s access to trade opportunities not only facilitates economic freedom for women, but also expands the productive capacity of countries.

He called on the AU to consider a Protocol on Women in Trade to facilitate greater trade opportunities for women, and to focus on removing non-tariff barriers to trade.

President Ramaphosa also expressed gratitude to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) for providing technical support to the continental initiative.

In his own speech, the Secretary-General of the AfCFTA Wamkele Mene pledged to work with the ECA and the UN development Programme to prepare the AU Protocol on Women in Trade, saying that for AfCFTA to be inclusive and to ensure shared growth across the continent, women , young Africans and SMEs have to be at the heart of its implementation.

Such a protocol will build upon the AfCFTA Framework Agreement that recognizes gender equality as an explicit objective.

Mr. Mene also joined some of the leaders to acknowledge the technical assistance provided member states by the ECA in the development of their National AfCFTA strategies.

The Director of ECA’s Regional Integration and Trade Division, Mr. Stephen Karingi, welcomed the outcomes of the summit saying, “The inclusion of health and education among the priority services sectors for liberalization under the AfCFTA in the light of the impact of the covid-19 pandemic have received a boost from the AfCFTA Champion, President Issoufou of Niger.”

“The decision to have December 2021 as common deadline for phase II and phase III negotiations shows the continent’s commitment to realize and lock in the e-commerce benefits early. We remain committed to working with the African Union and partners in achieving Africa’s integration agenda and in so doing, accelerating the implementation of the SDGs and Agenda 2063 – the Africa we want,” he added.