By H.E. Wamkele Mene (delivered at the AfCFTA Start of Trading Ceremony Webinar on 1 January 2021)
Truly today is a historic day, a day in which we start officially trading under the preferences of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Today is a day we take Africa a step closer to a vision of an integrated continent, a vision of an integrated market on the African continent.
This African Continental Free Trade Area should not just be a trade Agreement, it should actually be an instrument for Africa’s development. In this regard, we have seen the World Bank produce a report that projects that by the year 2035, if we implement this Agreement effec- tively, we have the opportunity to lift out of poverty one hundred million Africans. And the majority of this hundred million Africans that will be lifted out of poverty, are women in trade. It will be the opportunity to close the gender income gap, and the opportunity for SMEs to access new markets.
We are working very closely with our technical partners to develop digital technology platforms that will enable connectivity of Small to Medium Enterprises, and enable connectivity of young Africans in trade.
This Agreement does not benefit only the big corporations on the African continent, but it should always be inclusive of young Africans, women and African SMEs.
We have partnered and worked very hard the past years with UNECA, with AfreximBank, with Afrochampions, with UNCTAD, and recently with UNDP.
Today, as Africans, we are witnessing the beginning of a new chapter in terms of trade and investment relations of the African continent.
I have to say, personally, as an African, I’m truly proud today because 54 countries have signed this Agreement, 33 have ratified it, over 40 have submitted their tariff offers. This is a strong signal that Africa is ready to start trading today on the basis on new rules and preferences that will ensure that the African Market is integrated.
We have to take, as Africans, active steps to overcome the smallness of our respective national economies. We have to take active steps to overcome the lack of economies of scale. We have to take active steps to make sure that we place Africa on the path of industrial development so that by the year 2035, we’re able to double intra-Africa trade with value added goods.
As I observed before in the past, we have to take active steps to dismantle the colonial eco- nomic model that we inherited and that has been sustained over the last 60 years. We have to stop being exporters of primary prod- ucts to countries of the North. We have to create jobs on the African continent by developing our regional value chains and be self sufficient in our own continental production.
In 2020, COVID-19 has demonstrated, that Africa is overly reliant on global supply chains, and when these global chains are disrupted, Africa suffers. When these global chains are subdued, we know that Africa suffers.
So we have to take active steps to make sure this industrial development is accelerated and this African Continental Free Trade Area and the Launch of Trading today are the first steps we take into that direction.
Today we will be hearing from our Heads of State, we will hear from the Chair of the Heads of State Assembly, HE President Ramaphosa. We will hear from HE President Mahamadou Issoufou, Champion of the AfCFTA. We will hear from HE President Akufo Addo, the host of the AfCFTA Secretariat in Ghana. Finally we will hear from the Chaiperson of the African Union Commission, HE Moussa Faki Mahamat.
We have also invited our strategic partners, AfreximBank, UNECA, the AfroChampions and others. They will all share their thoughts on what this day means for them.
Finally, I want you, Africans, to join me as we take this historic step to the vision of an integrated Africa, the Africa we want.
H.E. Wamkele Mene is the Secretary-General of the AfCFTA Secretariat based in Accra, Ghana.