26 Heads of State to attend free trade area summit in Kigali

At least 26 Heads of State and Government are expected in Kigali next week for the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) agreement.
Mushikiwabo addresses the news conference in Kigali yesterday. (Photos by Timothy Kisambira)
Mushikiwabo addresses the news conference in Kigali yesterday. (Photos by Timothy Kisambira)

At least 26 Heads of State and Government are expected in Kigali next week for the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) agreement.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Government Spokesperson, Louise Mushikiwabo, confirmed attendance of the extraordinary summit during a news conference yesterday in Kigali.

The agreement, which was over the weekend approved by African Ministers in charge of Trade, seeks to make Africa the largest free-trade area in the world with 54 member states and over 1 billion citizens.

The draft agreement will this week be reviewed by ministers of justice from across the continent to ensure the legal consistency before being submitted to ministers of foreign affairs prior to the signing on March 21.

The Foreign Affairs Minister said that Kigali was warming up for the summit with most plans already made in readiness for expected guests.

She called for cooperation of residents of Kigali during the summit, noting that there was likely to be a few inconveniences to ordinary citizens during the time.

The signing will be preceded by a business summit on March 20 that will feature members of the private sector from across the continent and top government officials, including Heads of State.

The Continental Free Trade Area is a continental geographic zone where goods and services are supposed to move with no restrictions among member states.

Once established, there shall be no administrative barriers at any country’s borders in regards to movement of goods and services.

Some government officials attended the press briefing in Kigali yesterday. 

The CFTA aims to achieve a comprehensive and mutually beneficial trade agreement among member states covering trade in goods, trade in services, investment, intellectual property rights and competition policy.

AGOA and second-hand clothes phase-out

Meanwhile, the Government Spokesperson said that they were still in talks with the American Trade representative on the eligibility of the East African Community to continue trading with the United States under the American Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA).

Last year, the American government began an out of cycle review on the eligibility of Rwanda and other East African Community countries following a move by the bloc to phase out importation of second-hand clothes.

Mushikiwabo said that the talks are ongoing as they hope to find a balance between the AGOA requirements and growing of the local textile industry.

“EAC and Rwanda, in particular, believe that there is a way we can fulfill the requirements on AGOA and at the same time grow our apparel industry. As EAC, we feel that we should not be penalised for such a development, we should be able to make a case why we are raising the tariffs on second-hand clothes imports,” she said.

France-Rwanda relations

On relations between Rwanda and France, she said that the country welcomes the willingness and goodwill shown by the current administration of the European nation to improve ties.

Regardless of standing disagreements on a range of issues such as involvement in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda is open to improving ties with France, she said.

French President Emmanuel Macron has held two meetings with President Paul Kagame since he took office with the recent one on Sunday on the sidelines of the International Solar Alliance Summit in New Delhi, India.

A Journalist asks a question during the press conference in Kigali yesterday. 

Uganda-Rwanda relations

With much featuring on the relationship between Rwanda and Uganda in the regional media, Mushikiwabo said that they hope to normalise ties between the two countries soon as there is much linking the two economies.

She said, though Kigali is unhappy with the treatment of some Rwandans in Uganda such as unjustified arrests, Rwanda will not reciprocate such actions but will work to iron out issues with an aim to strengthen regional integration.

Mushikiwabo also said that regional integration projects remain a priority for East African Community nations despite the slowed activity on some of them. She attributed the sluggish pace on some of the projects in the course of last year to elections in a number of EAC member countries, including Rwanda.