Building capacity to help Africa trade better

10th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union on AfCFTA held in Kigali


10th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union on AfCFTA held in Kigali

10th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union on AfCFTA held in Kigali
Photo credit: © tralac

The leaders of Africa’s 55 countries made history on 21 March 2018, when they come together in Kigali, Rwanda to sign an agreement that will launch the African Continental Free Trade Area (the AfCFTA). The AfCFTA will make the continent the largest free trade area created since the formation of the World Trade Organisation.

The launch took place at the 10th Extraordinary Meeting of the Heads of State of the African Union convened by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, the new Chairperson of the AU, who said of the AfCFTA: “This is a historic pact which has been nearly 40 years in the making, and it represents a major advance for African integration and unity.”

In summary, 44 out of the 55 AU member states signed the Agreement establishing the AfCFTA, 47 signed the Kigali Declaration and 30 signed the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, Right to Residence and Right to Establishment. Download the full list of signatories to the three legal instruments here.

During the opening ceremony, President Kagame stated:

“The Continental Free Trade Area is the culmination of a vision set forth nearly 40 years ago in the Lagos Plan of Action, adopted by Heads of State in 1980. That undertaking led directly to the Abuja Treaty establishing the African Economic Community in 1991.

We continue to be guided by the foundational principles and detailed implementation roadmap that were laid down in those instruments.

Among the most important guidelines is the pre-eminent role of our Regional Economic Communities. They have been the model and the engine for Africa’s economic integration and they will continue to be.
Trade agreements cover many complex details. Behind the scenes, Commission staff, ministers, and technical experts put in countless days and nights of hard work. This effort has paid off and we thank you.

What is at stake is the dignity and well-being of Africa’s farmers, workers, and entrepreneurs, particularly women and youth.

The promise of free trade and free movement is prosperity for all Africans, because we are prioritising the production of value-added goods and services that are “Made in Africa”.

The advantages we gain by creating one African market will also benefit our trading partners around the world, and that is a good thing.

At the same time, we will be in a better position to leverage our growing strength and unity to secure Africa’s rightful interests in the international arena.

This is not just a signing ceremony. Today’s deliberations are critically important as we chart the next steps on our journey towards the Africa we want.”

H.E. Moussa Faki, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, says the African Continental Free Trade Area will also strengthen Africa’s position in global trade: “AfCFTA will make Africa one of the largest economies in the world and enhance its capacity to interact on equal terms with other international economic blocs.”

On the 20th of March, a day before the signing, Government delegations joined Africa’s top business leaders and other stakeholders to exchange views on the continent’s economic transformation through trade at a special day of celebration and dialogue, the AfCFTA Business Summit.

The progressive trade liberalization of Africa in the years ahead will mean new opportunities for African companies to compete and cooperate across borders and build continental reach. However the success of the AfCFTA will depend on closer collaboration between policy makers and the private sector.

President Kagame says: “We need active support from the private sector. In fact, without your voice something essential is missing.” The AfCFTA is a flagship project of Agenda 2063, the African Union’s long-term vision for an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa. The Free Trade Area has the potential to transform the fortunes of millions of Africans by boosting trading ties between Africa’s nations.

His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya put it succinctly: “(The African) CFTA means an end to poverty. CFTA means prosperity for our continent. CFTA means jobs for our young people who today struggle and are fleeing our own continent. CFTA means peace and security because we have gainfully engaged our population. CFTA means Africa being able to be self-reliant. CFTA means the African Union meeting to discuss what to do with our prosperity and not what to do with the problems we suffer.

Currently Africa trades far less with itself than it does with the rest of the world. Intra-Africa trade stands at about 16%, compared with 19% intra-regional trade in Latin America, 51% in Asia, 54% in North America and 70% in Europe. The United Nations Economic for Africa estimates that the AfCFTA has the potential to boost intra-Africa trade by 53% by eliminating import duties and non-tariff barriers. It could create an African market of over 1.2 billion people with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $2.5 trillion.

Statement of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat

This is a historic day.

After Addis Ababa in May 1963, Abuja in June 1991 and Durban in July 2002, Kigali, in this month of March, marks a new step in our march towards greater integration and closer unity.

I would like therefore to express my high and deep appreciation to all the Heads of State and Government, as well as to the other heads of delegation, present here.

By travelling to Kigali, they responded to the call of duty. At this juncture in our history, there can be no bigger task for Africa than the deepening of the integration of the continent.

May I express, on your behalf, our grateful thanks to our hosts. To President Paul Kagame, who leads our Union with dynamism and dedication, to his Government and to the Rwandese people, I say Murakoze! We are grateful for the warmth of your welcome and the excellent organisational facilities provided for our meeting.

We have come here to fulfil the aspiration of our peoples for integration and unity.

We have come here to lay a new milestone, to take another step in the Pan-African journey, whose intellectual seeds were sown more than a century ago.

We have come here driven by the conviction that integration is not an option, but an imperative. To paraphrase Emperor Haile Selassie at the May 1963 Summit, the giant Africa cannot wake up if it remains divided.

The world is changing, and changing at a great speed. International competition is fierce. It leaves no room for the weak.

These last few months have, indeed, demonstrated the urgency of hastening the pace.

Europe is endeavouring to deepen its integration, despite the challenges inherent in such an undertaking.

In the Pacific area, a new entity – the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership – has just emerged.

China has launched a major undertaking – the One Belt One Road Initiative.

For Africa, after decades of independence, marked by persistent under-development and a marginal place in the international system, the terms of the debate are laid down in almost Manichean terms: Unite or Perish, as Kwame Nkrumah said at the Addis Ababa founding Summit.

Economic integration thus responds not only to aspirations born out of Pan-Africanism, but also to a practical imperative linked to the economic viability of the continent.

Consequently, the convening of this extraordinary session of the Assembly has raised great expectations across the continent. Our peoples, our business community and our youth, in particular, cannot wait any longer to see the lifting of the barriers that divide our continent, hinder its economic take-off and perpetuate misery, even though Africa is abundantly endowed with wealth.

Outside the continent, our efforts are observed with a mixture of admiration and scepticism.

Admiration for the speed with which our experts and Ministers of Trade negotiated the basic texts establishing the Free Trade Area.

Scepticism, because some actors, but also our own peoples, have seen so many proclamations remain a dead letter, so many commitments without practical execution that they have come to doubt the strength of our commitment.

This Summit must, therefore, mark a break. It must strengthen the confidence of our peoples in their Union and its ability to fulfil their aspirations. It must confound those who, outside Africa, continue to think, with barely concealed condescension, that our decisions will never materialise.

The Free Trade Area is the product of a little more than two years of negotiations, coordinated by Egypt then of Nigeria and under the overall auspices of President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger.

This is an opportunity for me to pay tribute to President Issoufou and the African Trade Ministers, as well as to our Regional Economic Communities, for the dedication with which they led this process.

I also thank the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the African Development Bank, for their accompaniment and support.

It is obvious that in a process as complicated as this one, compromise is a principle with which everyone must be imbued.

Beyond the debates about what some countries might gain or lose in the short term, the truth, statistically established, is that each of our Member States and the continent as a whole will benefit immensely from the establishment of the Free Trade Area.

In May 1963, the Late Ahmed Ben Bella had urged his colleagues to die a little, if not totally, for the liberation of Africa. Today, we must all be inspired by a similar spirit of sacrifice for the sake of the integration of the continent.

The time is no longer for hesitation. I, therefore, call upon all the Member States to sign and ratify the Free Trade Area Agreement. Our ambition must be to ensure its entry into force before the end of this year.

For my part, I intend, in the next few weeks, to appoint emissaries to carry out, under the authority of President Issoufou and in coordination with the private sector, the required outreach towards all concerned stakeholders.

I would like to take this opportunity to stress once again the importance of other aspects of the integration of the continent.

In addition to the Free Trade Area Agreement, the Commission is submitting to your attention the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and the African Passport. I urge all Member States to sign this instrument. We should ensure that Africans are no longer treated like foreigners on their own continent, while others move about therein often freely.

Another important component of our agenda is the Single African Air Transport Market. I solemnly appeal to the countries that have not yet done so to join this initiative.

Africa today has the opportunity to transform its potential into reality and translate into deeds the aspirations contained in Agenda 2063. This opportunity must be seized.

In truth, it is a privilege for you, for all of us, to lay down this important milestone in the integration of the continent.

On this day, the Founding Fathers our Union, in their eternal sleep, are inviting us, should I say conjuring us, to make this Summit a resounding success.

In May 1963, in a much less favourable context, they made history by laying the foundations for the institutional Pan-Africanism of which the African Union is the proud heir. We cannot do less than them.

Let me conclude by borrowing some words from Kwame Nkrumah’s speech to the Ghanaian National Assembly in June 1965:

“The task ahead is great indeed, and heavy is the responsibility; and yet it is a noble and glorious challenge – a challenge which calls for the courage to believe, the courage to dare, the courage to do, the courage to fight, the courage to achieve – to achieve the highest excellencies and the fullest greatness of man. Dare we ask for more in life.”

This address has particular resonance as we gather here in Kigali. We need to summon the required political will for the African Continental Free Trade Area to finally become a reality.

I thank you.


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