Ghanaian President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo Monday commissioned and handed over the Secretariat building of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to the African Union Commission in Accra.
At a symbolic ceremony at the African Trade House, the President handed the keys to the Secretariat to Moussa Faki, Chairperson of the AU.
He also handed a scroll, the symbol of authority, to the Secretary-General of the AfCFTA, Mr Wamkele Keabetwe Mene, kickstarting Africa’s push to create the world’s largest integrated market that would boost the continent’s growth and bring prosperity for its 1.27 billion people.
The Secretariat would house the offices of the AfCFTA Secretary-General and staff who would provide administrative support for the implementation of the AfCFTA Agreement brokered by the AU that requires member state that have signed unto the agreement to remove tariffs from 90 percent of goods to allow for free access to commodities, goods, and services across the continent.
President Akufo-Addo, in his remarks, pointed out that the coming into being of the AfCFTA was one of the most important decisions taken by the AU considering the low intra-regional trade between african nations.
He noted that increased intra-regional trade would contribute to the continent’s quest to end endemic poverty and ensure the desired economic growth for Africa and its people.
“The last part of the growth and prosperity that we seek will come from us trading more amongst ourselves…We in Ghana believable increasing trade is the surest way to deepen Regional integration,” he stressed.
The President was optimistic that Africa’s new sense of urgency for economic integration would lay the foundation for an ‘Africa Beyond Aid’, and make the continent truly self-reliant.
And with it, will come a rapid increase in the exchange of agricultural, industrial, financial, scientific and technological products, which he said, “will significantly enhance our economic fortunes as a continent create profit and provided opportunities for employment for the broad masses of Africans, particularly the youth.”
“It will provide the vehicle for us to trade among ourselves in a more modern and sophisticated manner; it will offer a huge opportunity to exploit the abundant wealth and resources of our great continent for the benefit of all our people; and it will give us protection in how to deal with other trading blocks.”
President Akufo-Addo indicated that the coronavirus pandemic and the attendant disruption in the global supply chain had heightened the importance of the AfCFTA and reinforced the necessity for closer integration amongst countries “so that we can boost our mutual self-sufficiency, strengthen our economies, and reduce our dependence on external sources.”
He appealed to member states who were yet to ratify the AfCFTA Agreement to do so before the AU’s next extraordinary Summit scheduled for December 2020 to pave way for the smooth commencement of trading on January 1, 2021.
“We are now the world’s largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organisation, and we must make it count,” he stressed.
54 member states have signed unto the Agreement. But 30 have so far approved its ratification.
President Akufo-Addo urged the AfCFTA Secretary-General to work towards building a strong, efficient and effective Secretariat, with the capacity to implement the various trade rules, in line with the text of the Agreement, to help build credibility, and reduce trade policy uncertainty in the continent.
“The world is watching to see whether the Secretariat will, indeed, provide the springboard for Africa’s economic integration and rapid growth, and I am confident that, under your tenure, it will.
“Mr. Secretary-General, be rest assured of the firm support of the Government of Ghana for your work and activities,” he added.
The President Akufo-Addo also commended the Nigeriene leader, Mahamadou Issoufou, who is also the current Chair of ECOWAS, for the work he has done in championing the African Continental Free Trade initiative.
He congratulated the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, current Chair of the Authority of the Assembly of the AU, for the benign, progressive guidance and supervision he has offered to make the handing over ceremony possible.
AfCFTA Secretary-General Meme noted that Africa continued to be trapped in a colonial economic model, which required the aggressive implementation of the AfCFTA as a tool for effecting a fundamental structural transformation of Africa’s economy.
“The AfCFTA is therefore a critical response to Africa’s developmental challenges. It has the potential to enable Africa to significantly boost intra Africa trade and to improve economies of scale through an integrated market.
“It has the potential to be a catalyst for industrial development, placing Africa on a path to exporting value-added products and improving Africa’s competitiveness both in its own markets and globally.
“It also sends a strong signal to the international investor community that Africa is open for business, based on a single rule-book for trade and investment,” he said.
He thanked the government and the people of Ghana, for hosting the Secretariat and for providing world class facilities “that will enable Africa to progress on the historic vision of achieving an integrated Africa”.