Economic Commission for Africa Chief urges stakeholders to deliver a ‘timely and meaningful’ Continental Free Trade Area

The Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Vera Songwe, made a case for the Continental Free Trade Area on the historic ambition to integrate Africa's fragmented markets and deliver African prosperity.

She was speaking at the opening of a two-day meeting of African Ministers of Trade (AMOT) in Niamey on 1 December 2017. The AMOT meeting is expected to examine and approve the text of the Agreement establishing the CFTA.

Ms. Songwe urged the trade ministers to ensure that the CFTA is delivered in a 'timely and meaningful' manner.

It is extremely critical that we finalize the CFTA agreement at this ministerial meeting in accordance with the mandate of the summit of AU Heads of State and Governments to conclude this process in December 2017,rdquo; said Ms. Songwe, adding we all understand that there will be need for more technical work. But that should be part of the implementation of the agreement.rdquo;

The Executive Secretary noted that by eliminating tariffs the CFTA can boost intra-African trade by 52% and that by reducing non-tariff barriers it can be doubled, benefiting African welfare to the tune of $22 billion.

She also stated that the enlarged continental market fostered by the CFTA can attract more FDI to support African infrastructure development and increase productivity, support diversification, value addition and transformation.rdquo; Opening markets, she said, should improve agricultural trade needed to enable 'Africa to feed Africa'.rdquo;

She highlighted that by structurally transforming our economies, we generate jobs and opportunities to curb the trend whereby millions of Africans risk their lives migrating in search of better opportunities abroad.

For his part, Niger's president - Issoufou Mahamadou - who spoke in his double capacity as head of state and AUC's Champion on the CFTA, said the CFTA is a vehicle that can help Africa out of the vicious circle of unemployment, joblessness, and recurrent exodus of youth from the continent as economic migrants.

President Mahamadou described the CFTA and AU's Boosting Intra-Africa Trade (BIAT) programme as complementary initiatives that will help us achieve our vision 2063.rdquo; Mr. Mahamadou thank the ECA for providing technical support to the CFTA process.

Meanwhile, Ms. Songwe also cited Niger's performance in the Doing Business ranking as a testimony to Niger's policy determination and we congratulate you Mr. President and your government for your continuous efforts in this domain.rdquo;

She noted, however, that like many other African countries, Niger needs to double its growth to meet the objectives of the PDES and agenda 2063, adding For this, we need the CFTA. The Private sector, SME#39;s our youth are all waiting for this agreement. We must be resolute in our resolve to get it done.rdquo;

The ECA Chief mentioned 'rules of origin' and 'modalities for goods' as two areas that could delay the CFTA. She suggested that using interim rules of origin and beginning implementation for products already covered in the 90% level of ambition would enable us to see trade flowing under the CFTA in 2018, while due time is taken to refine more complex rules of origin and the request and offer aspect of market access offers.rdquo;

AUC Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, also added his voice to the calls for a timely adoption of the CFTA agreement.

Adopting CFTA within the deadline as directed by AU Heads of State and Government will mark a significant milestone towards achieving Africa's Agenda 2063,rdquo; said Mr. Mahamat. He noted that the CFTA will make Africa one of the largest economies in the world and enhance its capacity to interact on equal terms with other international economic blocs.

Mr. Mahamat pointed out that the CFTA is part of a bigger package, which includes enhanced intellectual property rights, industrialization, and the elimination of armed conflicts by 2020 among others.

Commenting on the European Partnership Agreements (EPAs), Ms. Songwe said The CFTA should be the priority for African countries in terms of trade policy. In this regard, we should work on areas of convergence but there should be a strategic pause on the EPA negotiation processes until the finalization of the CFTA.rdquo;

She said Africa could instead re-approach the EU once it has established the CFTA so that the CFTA can serve as the basis of a coherent pan-African arrangement with the EU that better supports our continental integration agenda and intra-African trade.

Ms. Songwe reassured the ministers that ECA is, and remains, committed to assisting the continent to reach its objectives and build the Africa that we want.rdquo;

Source: United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

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