By Maxwell Awumah, GNA Special Correspondent,
Niamey, Niger. Courtesy UNECA SRO/WA
Niamey (Niger), Dec. 4, GNA - Dr Vera Songwe, United Nations Under-Secretary-General, has called for a pause on the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) negotiation processes with the European Union until the finalisation of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) framework was completed.
She said the ‘strategic pause’ would allow countries already implementing their EPAs to continue honouring their commitments but help to avoid a situation where divergent provisions in the different Agreements provide for a fragmented trading arrangements between the EU and different African regions.
“The CFTA should be the priority for African countries, in terms of trade,” she said at the official opening of the fourth Meeting of African Ministers of Trade in Niamey, Niger.
It was organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation, African Integration and Nigeriens abroad under the distinguished tutelage of President Issoufou Mahamadu of Niger, a champion for African Free Trade Zone.
The objective of the meeting is to conclude the outstanding issues of the Modalities for Tariff Liberalisation that were adopted at the third Meeting of AU Ministers of Trade in June 2017 and consider the draft texts of the CFTA Agreement, protocols, annexes and appendixes, expected to come to fruition by the close of 2017.
Dr Songwe, doubling as the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), said Africa could re-approach the EU once the CFTA was established and use the framework as a coherent pan-African arrangement with the EU that better support the continent’s integration agenda and intra-African trade.
She said the vehicle for the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) through which African trades with the United States, is likely to evolve into a negotiated reciprocal arrangement in the coming years, as the new US administration’s approach to trade policy appear to prefer bilateral engagements, in which it could levy its economic heft.
“…it is vital we adopt a harmonised continental approaches on beyond the AGOA agenda to ensure we address the challenges and opportunities…by standing together, we can better safeguard our collective interests,” the Under-Secretary-General said.
Dr Songwe said Africa’s trade is growing rapidly with emerging economies including China, India, Brazil and Turkey, which accounted for over 24 percent growth in 2016, a departure from its traditional partners, namely, the EU and the US, which together only accounted for nine percent in 2000.
She said an ambitious CFTA, is not only necessary for Africa meeting its economic ascendancy but also to mitigate the effects of a changing world trade architecture and economic transformation.
Madam Aisha Abubarkar, Nigeria’s Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment and Chairperson of the African Union Ministers of Trade, said operationalising the CFTA would unlock the achievement of the AU’s agenda 2063, inuring to the socio-economic development of Africa.
She said, “It is better to focus on the bigger picture. We cannot fail and we shall not fail.”
Mr Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairman of the African Union Commission, said his outfit is adopting multi-tasking approaches to solving the myriads of continental challenges including unemployment and migration for the 65 percent of Africa’s youthful population, who are seeking non-existing jobs by traversing the Sahel and the Mediterranean Sea and perishing in droves.
He said development cannot flourish in conflicts and wars, and AUC is more determined to resolve conflicts in the continent, no matter how huge the task is.
President Mahamadou said, “It is time for Africa to depart from the penchant for colonial legacy trade patterns of raw materials exportation to semi-processed and finished commodities to feed Africa and the world.
He called for the integration of international labour standards, the participation of civil society, parliamentarians, the private sector and the academia as essentials in the implementation of the CFTA as the first phase reaches completion.
He said some implementation issues are expected to be addressed in 2018, which include rules of origin, guidelines for the implementation of trade remedies and matrix lists of liberalisation of trade in goods as well as market access for goods and services would be factored into the draft agreement and agenda.
He said the CFTA would leverage Africa into “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful entity, driven by its businesses and citizens and represent a dynamic force in global business, affecting the world stage.”
CFTA is aimed at creating a single market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, paving the way for accelerating the establishment of the Continental Customs Union and the African Customs Union with trade area expected to gross over a billion people and a continental GDP of over 3-trillion dollars.