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Permanent Secretariat appointed to drive Africa Continental Free Trade Area

Permanent Secretariat appointed to drive Africa Continental Free Trade Area

Abidjan/APO — At a ceremony on Monday 17 August to commission the Permanent Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo and Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the AU Commission, reiterated the importance of a competent secretariat to drive the continent’s economic transformation agenda.

“The economic integration of Africa will lay strong foundations for an Africa beyond aid. Africa’s new sense of urgency and aspiration of true self-reliance will be amply demonstrated by today’s ceremony,” Akufo-Addo said.

Ghana was selected as the venue for the headquarters by African leaders during a Summit of AU Heads of States in Niamey in July last year, to launch the implementation phase of the agreement, which is expected to spur regional trade among member countries. Currently, 54 states have signed on to AfCFTA, out of which 28 have ratified. The Free Trade Area was supposed to have been launched officially on 01 July 2020, but this process was interrupted by the outbreak of the corona virus across the continent.

President Akufo-Addo appealed to member states that have not ratified to do so before the next AU summit in December, “to pave the way for the smooth commencement of trading from 1 January 2021.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the importance of the success of the AfCFTA, the Ghanaian president said. “The destruction of global supply chains has reinforced the necessity for closer integration amongst us so that we can boost our mutual self-sufficiency, strengthen our economies and reduce our dependence on external sources,” he said.

Geopgraphically, the Africa Continental Free Trade Area is the world’s largest free trade area. It has the potential to transform the continent with its 1.2 billion people and combined GDP of around US$3 trillion across the 54-member states of the AU. Mahamat said the opening of the secretariat marked a milestone in the vision of Africa’s continental integration.

Wamkele Mene, the first Secretary General of the free trade area, said the agreement offered an opportunity for Africa to confront the significant trade and economic development challenges: market fragmentation, small national economies, over-reliance on primary commodity exports, narrow export base, lack of export specialization, under-developed regional value chains and high regulatory and tariff barriers to trade.

The African Development Bank Group provided a US$5 million institutional support grant to the AU for the establishment of the free trade area secretariat which is located in an modern office complex in the central business district of the Ghanaian capital, Abidjan.

“The African Development Bank congratulates the AU on the investiture of the secretariat hosted by Ghana on 17 August 2020. The Bank is delighted to be associated with this groundbreaking, game-changing, transformational continental initiative in furtherance of the objective to create the Africa we want,” said Solomon Quaynor, the Bank’s Vice-President for the Private Sector, Infrastructure and Industrialization.

The event also featured virtual goodwill remarks from AU Chairman, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, and Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou.

Caption: The Permanent Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area was inaugurated at a ceremony in Abidjan earlier this week. (Photograph by the African Development Bank Group)

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