AU approves start of AfCFTA trading

By Hilary Mare

AFRICAN Union Heads of State and Government have adopted a decision for member states to kick-start trading activities under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The decision was adopted during a virtual meeting of the 13th Extra Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Union on the AfCFTA, held on December 5, under the chairmanship of Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa and chairperson of the African Union (AU).

The summit took place just four weeks before the AfCFTA commences trading on January 1 2021, to consider the adoption of the legal instruments that will facilitate its operation.

“Throughout this process, we have stood united, with 55 sovereign AU member states rallying together, despite different levels of economic development and diverse strategic priorities. The commencement of trading under the AfCFTA on the 1st of January 2021 is one of the most significant milestones in the continental integration project,” Ramaphosa said.

According to Ramaphosa, the AfCFTA will boost intra-African trade, it will promote industrialisation 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.

The AfCFTA will also improve the prospects of Africa as an attractive investment destination. It will help advance the empowerment of Africa’s women, by improving women’s access to trade opportunities which will in turn facilitate economic freedom for women, and expand the productive capacity of countries.

“To support this, we must strengthen women’s participation in the continental economy by ensuring there is greater public procurement earmarked for women-owned businesses. We must ensure that there is sufficient support given to women-owned SMMEs and cooperatives in both local and regional economies,” emphasised Ramaphosa.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the AU Commission on his part expressed satisfaction on the millstone achieved in the implementation of the AfCFTA. He said it is the fulfilment of the dream long aspired by the founding fathers of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), who have always wanted to create an African common market.

Mahamat noted that, for this dream to finally become a reality, this continental project had to go through several stages. First was the signing in 1991 of the Treaty establishing the African Economic Community, followed by the signing in March 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda, of the agreement establishing the AfCFTA, during which 44 countries signed the agreement, and it is with great satisfaction that in record time 34 countries have ratified the legal instrument on the AfCFTA. This, the AUC chairperson said, shows the determination by member state to quickly achieve the economic integration of the continent.

Speaking from the headquarters of the AfCFTA Secretariat in Accra, Ghana, the secretary general of AfCFTA, Wamkele Mene stressed that integrating 55 markets will not be easy but giving up is not an option. He recalled that in August, the Government of Ghana officially handed over the AfCFTA Secretariat building to Mahamat, reiterating that, President Akufo-Addo has given his full support and is committed to see the AfCFTA truly commercially start off trading by the announced date.

“Today, 54 countries have signed the agreement while 34 countries have deposited their instruments of ratification, and 41 countries/customs unions have submitted their tariff offers, including the EAC and ECOWAS,” underlined the AfCFTA secretary general.

Worth recalling that it is the AU Assembly Decision adopted at its 33rd Ordinary Session held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in February that recommended the holding of this 13th Extraordinary Summit to approve all instruments required for the start of trading under the AfCFTA.