Uzziel Ndagijimana, the Minister for Finance and Economic Planning, on Thursday called for greater political will in support for the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement. He was speaking at the closure of a three-day conference in Kigali.
Closing the three-day 22nd meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts (ICE), which focused on the implementation of the AfCFTA, the minister had three key messages for the more than 250 experts and policymakers who attended.
Ndagijimana said: “The first message is the crucial role of political will for the successful implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement and the necessity of involving the various stakeholders, including the private sector, academia and the citizens.”
“It is urgent that all our member countries ratify the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement to make it effective as soon as possible. The second message is that it is our duty to keep in mind, during our negotiations, that the African Continental Free Trade Area has to benefit all, including smaller economies.”
While 49 countries on the continent have signed the agreement establishing the AfCFTA, only 12 countries have ratified it so far.
There must be 22 ratifications for the agreement to come into force. The countries that ratified the AfCFTA are: Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland and Uganda.
It is hoped that the other 10 ratifications, or more, will be in the bag by the next AU Summit next February.
Ndagijimana’s last message was that “there is still a lot of work in front of us under the AfCFTA” given the benefits of the agreement for citizens of the continent.
According to David Luke, Coordinator of the African Trade Policy Centre at Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), although progress with signings and ratifications is evident, there are some issues still to be resolved before completing phase one of AfCFTA negotiations (on trade in goods and trade in services).
Among others, AU member States need to agree on rules of origin as well as develop market access offers on trade in goods and trade in services. A second phase of AfCFTA negotiations will be conducted on investment, intellectual property rights, competition policy and possibly e-commerce.”
Peter Mathuki, the Executive Director of the East African Business Council (EABC), told Saturday Times that what has come out clearly is the need for political will and political leaders to take responsibility in this agenda.
Mathuki also particularly appreciated the role played by the Rwandan leader who is the current AU Chairperson, in driving the agenda of openness in continental trade, among other things.
Mathuki said: “I must congratulate President Paul Kagame, in a very special way, for carrying this vision on behalf of Africa. And I would like to request that the next Chair of the African Union to sustain this vision and conversation and make sure it is fast tracked because we need a borderless Africa.”
“The only way is to make sure it focuses on the welfare of the people. Number two is that it must be private sector driven. The whole process must be private sector driven because that’s the only way it can be sustainable. If you don’t involve private sector in the negotiations and the entire process, how can you call it trade yet trade is about the private sector?”