A number of business leaders have signed a joint letter calling for African ministers and heads of state to stick to the deadline of July 1 for the coming into force of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.
The letter, which was copied to Business24, came ahead of the AU ministerial meeting on the 5-6th of May that will be discussing the trade response to Covid-19 and the state of the free trade agreement.
The letter follows reports in international media that the AfCFTA implementation date of July 1 is likely to be postponed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The signatories said there is no legitimate reason to postpone the AfCFTA, even if they understand that a staggered approach can be used given current circumstances.
Africa’s free trade pact, if successfully implemented, will give rise to the biggest regional trading bloc in the world, with a market size of 1.2 billion people and a combined GDP of US$2.5 trillion.
“We understand that certain parts of the AfCFTA are sensitive. The rules of origin and tariffs need time, but we can start with the trading of essential goods.
That will send a strong message to the world that we are serious about the AfCFTA and to African businesses,” said Paulo Gomes, one of the signatories to the letter who is a former Executive Director of the World Bank and Chair of the Executive Committee of AfroChampions.
The AfroChampions network has been mandated by the African Union to coordinate private sector discussions around the AfCFTA. Mr. Gomes said the ministers meeting next week have a duty to respect the current deadline.
“The private sector is the biggest beneficiary of the AfCFTA, and with supply chains being disrupted globally, it is even more urgent that we have a functioning system within the continent to create continental supply chains.”
In the letter, the signatories acknowledged that governments are right to ensure that the immediate response to the pandemic is a health one. They added, however, that the looming crisis is economic, and the AfCFTA is an important tool to help stimulate investment and to create African value chains.
They said there is no reason why the trade negotiations can’t be virtual, and also called for the work of the AfCFTA Secretariat, which includes the recruitment of its staff, to continue so as to ensure the Secretariat is operational as soon as lockdowns are effectively over.
The signatories are part of the Afro Champions network, which features some of the biggest names in Africa’s private sector and whose patrons include Thabo Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo, former Presidents of South Africa and Nigeria respectively.
Source: Business 24