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Plans on course to start Africa trade pact

By Otiato Opali in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily | Updated: 2020-02-13 10:40
Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo arrives for a meeting at the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Feb 10, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Some African heads of state have informed the Assembly of Heads of State and Governments of the African Union meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, that plans are on course to bring into effect the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement, or AfCFTA.

Speaking at a session of the 33rd Africa Union Summit, Nana Akufo-Addo, president of Ghana, said that his country, after being selected as the host country, is on schedule with the construction of the AfCFTA Secretariat. And he added that it will be operational by March.

"The government of Ghana sponsored six meetings of the AfCFTA in December 2019, in Accra. Thus far, a total amount of $3 million has been advanced by Ghana for the establishment and operationalization of the AfCFTA Secretariat", Akufo-Addo said.

African leaders in Niger launched the AfCFTA in July 2019, which could be the world's largest FTA in terms of participating members, as the number of members could potentially go to 55.

The FTA will eliminate tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade in goods and simplify inter-state trading relations to boost intra-African trade, facilitate industrialization, and bring about prosperity in the region.

Role of infrastructure

Reiterating the importance of having the necessary infrastructure ready for the agreement to take effect, Cyril Ramaphosa, South African president, said developing a robust infrastructure is crucial to making the AfCFTA a success.

"The success of the AfCFTA depends on infrastructure development. We are going to drive the implementation of the Presidential Infrastructure Champion Initiative, so that priority and high impact projects act as catalysts for the AfCFTA," Ramaphosa said in his address at the opening of the 33rd ordinary session of the AU meeting.

Ramaphosa, who took over the one-year chairmanship of the AU from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Sunday, pledged to promote the potential of the AfCFTA during his one-year chairmanship.

"In pursuit of this priority, we will host the Extraordinary Summit of the AfCFTA to be held back-to-back with the extraordinary summit on the Silencing of the Guns in May 2020," Ramaphosa said.

On Feb 5, the African Union's Department of Trade and Industry announced that the selection panel for the position of secretary-general of the AfCFTA had convened to interview short-listed candidates and the successful applicant will be announced in due course, bringing the realization of the trade agreement closer.

The agreement which aims to allow free access to commodities, goods, and services across the continent is expected to create a single market, deepen economic integration and aid the movement of capital and people on the continent.

At present, intra-African trade only accounts for about 16 percent of the continent's total trade, much lower compared to levels in other continents, such as Europe with 69 percent and Asia with 59 percent.

According to Ramaphosa, the agreement is crucial in giving Africa leverage on the global market by providing it the muscle to trade as an equal.

Chen Yingqun in Beijing contributed to this story.

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