Wamkele Mene, secretary general of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), says the continental trade regime will take off as planned on 1 January 2021.
He said the AfCFTA Secretariat is targeting January 2021 for launching implementation of the free trade agreement, following its postponement due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
Mene made this announcement a he and his team from the AfCFTA Secretariat met the media before engaging with members of the diplomatic community from African member-states in Accra.
He said within 15 years of implementing the agreement, 90% of African’s internal trade ought to be free of duty payments. Within that period, African countries must remove unnecessary barriers to trade and non-tariff barriers.
“We are looking to the agreement mechanisms for removal of non-tariff barriers to trade on the African continent,” Mene said.
He expressed his gratitude to the Government and people of Ghana for providing world-class resources to enable the secretariat to advance the objective of an integrated market in Africa.
Mene said the new institution is a sign of Ghana’s continuous commitment to pan-Africanism and dependability in taking leadership roles to advance the noble objective of unity and an integrated market in Africa.
COVID-19 has been among the factors which delayed the start of trading. Out of 55 countries on the continent, 42 are still either in full or partial lockdown, barriers are closed, and goods are not transiting.
Mene said the AfCFTA is a timely and critical intervention to address the effects of COVlD-l9 and achieve the socio-economic transformation of Africa under Agenda 2063 through trade and industrialisation.
He told guests that the institution had responded to COVID-19 by providing advice and proposals to heads of state and trade ministers on establishing trade corridors during the pandemic period. It had also asked countries to allow goods required for fighting the pandemic to transit through barriers without traders paying any duties.
Mene said that as a secretariat, the AfCFTA staff have learned from the pandemic that Africa ought to accelerate its industrial development and reconfigure its supply chain to become less reliant on others – “without disconnecting ourselves from the global economy”.
“We will have to work with the various countries to put in place the requisite tariff infrastructure and customs administration infrastructure for the new agreement,” he said.
Tere is a need to start building a degree of self-sufficiency in terms of industrial development, the secretary general also said.
As the implementation of the agreement commences, “We need to relook at the continent’s intellectual property rights regime, and make an assessment as to what extent which regime will facilitate African industrial development.”
Mene said AfCFTA is committed to implementing the agreement, and the political commitment remains to ensure that Africa implements the agreement in totality.
The heads of state have been given directives and will be meeting on 15 December 2020 in South Africa for a special summit to provide further directives regarding the implementation of the agreement from 1 January 2021.
“We have a daunting task of accelerating industrial development in Africa and positioning Africa in the agreement to be a destination for investment establishment and value chains across the continent,” Mene said.
“We have a challenge to make sure that we adhere to rules of the agreement, implement rules of the agreement, and implement trade facilitation, transit, customs co-operation components of the agreement that will facilitate and boost intra-African trade.”
He conceded: “There will be challenges and setbacks, but we are committed to making sure that during our tenure of office we will build an integrated market in Africa that contributes to African economic development.”