Continental free-trade negotiations to conclude by 2017
President Jacob Zuma said continental leaders are envisaging to conclude negotiations on the continental free-trade area by next year.
He also said the continent should work to build a better, prosperous Africa that is developed, peaceful and integrated to improve the lives of all people.
The President said this when he addressed an Africa Day gala dinner at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, on Wednesday.
President Zuma said Africa has partners in all the regions of the world – Asia, North America, South America, the middle East, New Zealand and Australia – and that with these partnerships, the continent should build a prosperous Africa, free of poverty, unemployment, disease and underdevelopment.
He said there is a need for a continent with modern infrastructure, where one can fly from one country to another within the continent, without having to go via Europe.
There is also a need for Africa where people are able to drive or ride by rail from one country to another with greater ease, the President said.
“It is for this reason that we are working, under the auspices of the African Union, to build infrastructure that will boost economic development in our continent.
“We are also working to achieve regional integration and to promote trade amongst ourselves as Africans, as intra-trade remains very low, standing at a mere eleven percent.
“In this regard, we envisage concluding the negotiations for a Continental Free Trade Area next year,” he said.
Africa should industrialise, beneficiate raw materials
The President said, meanwhile, that African countries can no longer continue to be producers and exporters of raw materials.
He said all countries should strengthen their manufacturing capacities through industrialisation.
“More importantly, the beneficiation of our raw materials remains of paramount importance. The mineral wealth of Africa must help eradicate poverty in the African continent.
“And we do have the mineral wealth in abundance,” he said.
Africa must join digital revolution
Meanwhile, President Zuma said the continent cannot be left behind in the age of the fourth industrial revolution.
He said the sustainable development that Africans seek will come about through the use of modern technology, and also through improving education in the continent.
“We must take advantage of the global digital revolution so as to create employment and better the lives of our people.
“The situation which we find ourselves in can be changed.
“We are a very youthful continent and investment in education and skills development will take Africa closer to the goals of sustainable development and an end to hunger, disease and deprivation,” he said.
Continent’s energy needs increase
The President said, meanwhile, that the continent’s energy needs have increased.
According to the International Energy Agency, sub-Sahara Africa witnessed a 45% rise in energy needs since the year 2000.
“The electrification of the continent thus remains a key priority, and one of the most important infrastructure goals.
“Remarkable advances have already been made in solar and wind energy, among others. These efforts will not only enable us to satisfy our energy needs in the foreseeable future but will also assist us to reduce carbon emissions,” he said.
Working towards peace and stability
President Zuma said, meanwhile, that the pockets of conflicts in the continent have the potential to limit the realisation of Africa’s socio-economic development goals.
He said it was for this reason that the AU has prioritised peace and security.
“We have taken a resolution that the guns must be silenced in the continent by 2020. We want an Africa that is at peace with itself.
“An Africa where women and children live without fear of attacks.
“An Africa where there are no displaced people and refugees. The continent is doing something to end the conflicts. What has been of concern is the ability of the continent to respond with speed when conflict breaks out in order to protect lives,” he said.
He said that the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises, which was established in November 2013 to fulfil this goal, will remain in place.
“This mechanism will be replaced by the African Standby Force at a time to be decided by the continent’s leadership,” he said.