It is high time for African businesses to own African Continental Free Trade Area and contribute to its implementation, said Prudence Sebahizi, Director for Institutional Matters and Programmes Coordination, AfCFTA. At the opening of Conference on AfCFTA Implementation Strategies, on Monday, January 15, officials from different African countries assessed progress made, existing challenges, and solutions to ensure that the common market is beneficial. ALSO READ: Private sector urged to expand market under AfCFTA trading Understandably, the private sector is the primary implementer of the continental agreement yet, a bigger section, especially small and medium enterprises, are blind to the available opportunities mainly due to lack of awareness. “We have listened to you [private sector] and we will always do so. I think it’s now high time for African businesses to own AfCFTA and contribute to it,” Sebahizi said while acknowledging the need to have strategic awareness at national level. ALSO READ: A year of trading under AfCFTA – a Rwandan businesswoman’s story He also emphasised that countries have to invest in productive capacities in line with their private sector development strategies to have a clear picture of where to focus production and building regional and continental value chains across all sectors. The Secretariat directed to have a National Implementation Committee in each State Party to fast-track the implementation and create awareness while bringing timely and tailored solutions to challenges faced by the private sector and other stakeholders. However, only 19 out of 47 State Parties have already established them while 32 countries developed AfCFTA Implementation Strategies. ALSO READ: Five things African countries can do to optimize AfCFTA Jide Martyns Okeke, Coordinator of UNDP Regional Programme for Africa, said it is imperative to take a people–centred lens and assess whether policies have worked for Africa’s businesspeople including investors, producers, workers, and communities, to make informed policy decisions. “Africa’s transformation is possible despite global economic downturn, with an expected growth rate of 2.4 per cent. AfCFTA could be a major catalyst for this structural transformation, if the agreement is effectively implemented.” “Effective implementation of the AfCFTA Agreement is a gradual process requiring the involvement of States Parties and Regional Economic Communities. Let's work together to set the agreement in motion and foster seamless intra-African trade.” Briggette Harrington, the founder of Igire Coffee, the first Rwandan company to export goods with the AfCFTA Certificate of Origin, said that while there has been significant progress in driving the common market, the concept remains complex for business people to leverage. She added that the private sector has a role to interest themselves and improve their ways of doing business by lifting the standards of products to be competitive in cross-border markets. The year 2023 ended with a couple of milestones achieved in the implementation of the common market with the continuation of the Guided Trade Initiative that involved seven countries, the launch of the AfCFTA Adjustment Fund that seeks to address tariff revenue losses incurred by countries, mobilise commercial, and concessional funding. Additionally, the Secretariat noted that the completion of protocols of trade in goods is at 93.2 per cent of tariff lines, with only automobile, textile and clothing sectors under pending negotiations. The protocols on women and youth, and digital trade were concluded but yet to be adopted.