The African Union Commission is rallying support from civil society organization in Africa to enable it fast track and achieve the objectives of the African Continental free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
According to the Commission, the Participation of the civil society is critical at all stages in making sure the process as well as the outcome of negotiations are beneficial to all segments of society.
It said, though the AfCFTA by its design and process is Member State driven, the representation of civil society is key as it makes available research documents and advisory briefs as well as best practices of addressing or avoiding adverse effects of free trade areas.
“The role of civil society is best served therefore at national and regional levels particularly where countries managed to form customs union. The African Union Commission, even if its mandate is coordination and facilitation of the negotiations, there are many areas to engage with the civil society.”
It added, “Ideally, representation of the civil society at all levels is informative. As AfCFTA process is a member state driven, most of you, I want to believe, have had opportunities to do so at national and regional levels. As you are aware we are seeking to go beyond a free trade area but we are pursuing a development approach to integration and there are many critical issues to discuss as we progress.”
These were contained in a key note address by Mrs.Treasure Maphanga, Director of Trade and Industry at the African Union Commission. The address was read on her behalf at the Africa-Wide Multi-Stakeholder Consultation on Africa Continental Free Trade Area held in Accra recently under the auspices of the Third World Network – Africa (TWN-Africa).
The consultation brought together private sector operators, government officials, trade experts, negotiators, trade unionists, gender advocates among others who have a major stake in Africa’s Continental free Trade Area.
After adopting the AfCFTA on March 21, 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda, the consultation offered stakeholders the opportunity to evaluate the framework agreement, adopted national and regional agenda to engage with processes envisaged towards the ratification and other follow up issues.
The consultation according to the organizers was critical as the processes leading to the adoption of the AFCFTA, did not fully engage the stakeholders. There was little room for the engagement of the private sector, civil society groups and other economic constituencies in the processes with information about the meetings, timings treated as confidential.
The meeting built on earlier work by Africa Trade Network members in 2017 (regional consultations in March 2017 in Lusaka, Zambia for the Southern Africa region, May 2017, in Kampala, Uganda for East Africa and June 2017 in Rabat, Morocco for North Africa).
According to Mrs Maphanga, the AfCFTA should not be seen as a solo project as the Summit decision of January 2012 decided to endorse the Action Plan on Boosting Intra-Africa Trade which contains seven clusters; namely, trade policy, trade facilitation, productive capacity, trade related infrastructure, trade finance, trade information and factor market integration. The decision also called for the fast tracking of the establishment of the Continental Free Trade Area by an indicative date of 2017.
She said, “We are indeed proud that the African Union delivered based on member states driven process. However, we also need to recognise that we are still at the beginning of the process, we have achieved one milestone, and we still have a long way to go before the AfCFTA is concluded and implemented in Kigali, in addition to the AfCFTA, we witnessed the signature of the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of establishment. This followed closely after the launch of the Single African Air Transport Market.
“This is an exciting moment because it demonstrates that Africa in not just talking but also moving forward to take concrete steps to advance continental integration.
“Trade negotiations alone cannot bring about all we want. Consultation, collaboration and sensitization of all societal groups at all levels is key to make it a success.”
On his part, the Coordinator of the TWN-Africa, Dr Yao Graham indicated that his outfit was always proud to host events relative to African integration.
Dr Graham said the content of the decision to be taken at the meeting was optimal because of the array of stakeholders at the dialogue. He believes the issues of AfCFTA are important because economic integration is a key and necessary part of the Pan African agenda.
According to him, any agreement that is meant to accelerate inter African trade is a momentous one because, “we need trade integration for development in Africa.”
He was quick to add that trade liberalization is important but it is not all could engender economic development.
By Mohammed Suleman