ADDIS ABABA, (The Southern African Times) – The African Union (AU) Commission stressed the fulfillment of a dream as African leaders on Saturday approved trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement should start on January 1, 2021.
The statement was made by Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, as he emphasized that the latest development related to the continental free trade pact “is the fulfillment 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.”
“This shows the determination by member states to quickly achieve the economic integration of the continent,” the Chairperson said.
“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 endeavor 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 on Saturday.
African leaders reaffirmed 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 January 1, 2021.
During the online event, the current AU Chairperson and South Africa’s President, 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.
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.
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, the South African president said.
He further 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.
Ramaphosa also expressed gratitude to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) for providing technical support to the continental initiative.
The Secretary-General of the AfCFTA, Wamkele Mene, pledged to work with the ECA and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) 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 small and medium-sized enterprises 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, according to the AfCFTA Secretary-General.
The Director of ECA’s Regional Integration and Trade Division, Stephen Karingi, welcomed the outcomes of the summit.
“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,” Karingi said. “We remain committed to working with the AU 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.”
The AfCFTA is regarded as the world’s largest free trade zone by the number of countries, covering about 1.2 billion people.