African Leaders Mull 2021 as AfCTA’s New Take-off Date

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Wamkele Mene

James Emejo in Abuja

African heads of state are billed to meet to consider January 1, 2021 as the new implementation date for the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) agreement earlier scheduled to commence on July 1, 2020.

The Secretary-General of AfCTA Secretariat, Mr. Wamkele Mene, spoke during a webinar on the “Political Economy of COVID-19: Implications for AfCFTA”, which was organised by the Africa International Trade and Commerce Research and Nigeria Private Sector Alliance.

The new timeline followed an assessment of the damage already caused by the COVID-19 pandemic globally and Africa in particular.

Also, speaking during another webinar on “Multi-stakeholder and expert dialogue on the impact of COVID-19 on Trade”, which was put together by the acting Chief Trade Negotiator/Director General,
Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations, Mr. Victor Liman, Mene advised Nigeria to quickly tidy up its domestic processes towards the eventual ratification of the AfCTA.

Mene warned that its implementation will be speeded up when the current battle with the pandemic is over.
He said though COVID-19 had delayed the implementation of the trade agreement, Africa will have to “fast track our implementation of the AfCTA when things get to normal.

“I really hope that when Nigeria is ready and has gone through the domestic processes that they need to go through, that Nigeria indeed will proceed to ratify the agreement when you are ready.

“Looking at the (COVID-19) destruction in Africa, we know that our supply chain had been significantly undermined and negatively affected by COVID-19.”

He also told participants that the Assembly of Heads of States had established a COVID-19 solidarity fund currently valued at about $20 million to aid a coordinated approach for distribution to countries whose health systems are under severe strain.

He said despite the closure of borders, the heads of state had agreed that there should be a trade corridor for transiting essential goods that have been identified by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention of the African Union (AU).
He listed the essential products to include germ killers namely soaps, ventilators and personal protection equipment which “can still transit and can still reach populations across Africa and people who need it the most.”

He added that the trade corridor represented one of the tools which the heads of state are employing to combat COVID-19.
The AfCTA SG added that the Bureau of African Ministers of Trade will be meeting next week to consider further proposals for minimising the negative impact of the pandemic across the continent.

According to him, one of the items on the ministers’ agenda is to work out a possible moratorium on duties for essential products and goods “when they cross the border so that the items will become more affordable for consumers across the continent.”

The SG, however, noted that the strains brought by the COVID-19 pandemic on the economic and public health systems had called the July implementation date for AfCTA to question.

He said:”When you look at all these things it becomes very clear that our objective for an integrated market and the objective of moving swiftly to the implementation of the AfCTA- that all of the works that we have been doing is now being put to question by COVID-19.”

The AfCTA, endorsed by 55 countries, is expected to create a $3.4 trillion economic bloc with 1.3 billion people across Africa and constitute the largest new trading bloc since the World Trade Organization formed in 1994.

Earlier in March, Liman was asked how prepared Nigeria was towards the takeoff date of AfCTA.

He said: “No country can be totally prepared. “However, we cannot stop engaging with the AfCTA process because it’s important that Nigeria as a strategic country in Africa continues to lead and engage on this. We will not want others to negotiate on our behalf; we want to provide that leadership.

“But having said that, on competitiveness, there’s still more to be done. On infrastructure, we still need to do more and on the economy, we still need to do more. We still need to do more on security; but I think the current president is actually trying with respect to security.

“As you also know, we’ve moved 10 places forward in the areas of ease of doing business and so we are getting prepared somehow but you know a country can never be fully ready to go into a free trade arrangement but I hope that over time,we will be able to prepare ourselves and take advantage of the opportunities that the AfCTA represents for us. This is key to the prosperity not just of Nigeria but also of the continent.”