When the African Union (AU) convened an Extraordinary Summit in Kigali, the capital of the Republic of Rwanda, on 21st March, 2018, to adopt and sign the legal instruments for the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), there were many who did not believe African countries were ready to meet the required minimum threshold of twenty-two (22) Member-State-ratifications needed for the AfCFTA to come into effect.
On 30th May 2019, a year later, after the minimum threshold was met, with Ghana and Kenya being the first to deposit, on the same day, their instruments of ratification with the AU Commission, the operational phase of the AfCFTA was launched, as the Agreement had become effective.
A little over a month after this seminal event, we gathered in Niamey, capital of the Republic of Niger, on 7th July 2019, at the 12 th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU, where Ghana was selected by her peers to play host to the Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area.
Indeed, for a country generally acknowledged as the pioneer of modern pan-Africanism under the dynamic leadership of our first President, Kwame Nkrumah, a country whose people made great sacrifices to spearhead the struggle for the liberation of the African continent from colonialism, imperialism and the racist system of apartheid, this is the first time, in our sixty-three (63) years of nationhood and in the fifty-seven years of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the precursor to the AU, that we have the responsibility and privilege of hosting an important pan-African institution.
The coming into being of the African Continental Free Trade Area is one of the most important decisions taken by the AU. When you consider the fact that trade between African countries remains low, currently standing at some 16% of our combined GDP, compared to other parts of the world, like the European Union’s 75%, it is obvious that these very low levels of intra-regional trade constitute one of the defining characteristics of our continuing poverty. They hinder our prospects of bringing prosperity to our peoples. A large part of the growth and prosperity that we seek on the continent will come from us trading more among ourselves.
Increase in trade is the surest way to deepen regional integration in Africa. It will mean a rapid increase in the exchange of agricultural, industrial, financial, scientific, and technological products, which would significantly enhance our economic fortunes as a continent, create prosperity, and provide opportunities for employment for the broad masses of Africans, particularly the youth. The economic integration of Africa will lay a strong foundation for an ‘Africa Beyond Aid’. It is for this reason that I have continued in the footsteps of my predecessors in fighting for the cause of African unity.
An effective implementation of the AfCFTA will dispel the notion that the AU is not capable of executing its own decisions. Africa’s new sense of urgency and aspiration of true self-reliance will be amply demonstrated by today’s ceremony. In this regard, I appeal to all Member States, who are yet to ratify the AfCFTA Agreement, to take advantage of the postponement of the date for start of trading, and do so by December 2020, to enable us trade fully among ourselves, so we can harness the benefits of the AfCFTA together.
The pandemic has heightened the importance of the success of the AfCFTA. The disruption 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.
We are now the world’s largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organisation, and we must make it count. Covering a market of 1.2 billion people, with a combined GDP of $3 trillion, across the fifty-four (54) Member States of the AU that have signed up to the Agreement, 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.
So, I urge Member States to put in an extra effort to conclude all outstanding implementation issues, for their adoption by the AU Assembly in the next Extraordinary Summit scheduled for December 2020, to pave way for the smooth commencement of trading from 1st January, 2021.
The AfCFTA Framework agreement provides for a functionally autonomous, independent institution, within the AU system. In upholding this and other provisions of the Agreement, the Secretary-General must 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 it will.
By President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo,
President of Ghana