President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo Monday officially inaugurated and handed over to the African Union Commission, the office complex) in Accra to serve as the permanent secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
The secretariat will provide office space for the Secretary General and staff who will provide leadership and technical support for the AfCFTA and overall management of the day-to-day activities of the secretariat, implement agreement and strategic collaboration for stakeholders’ engagement and resource mobilization for the implementation of the AfCFTA Agreement.
To date, 54 countries have signed while 30 have ratified the AfCFTA Agreement, with Eritrea as the only AU member state yet to sign.
The AfCFTA makes Africa the largest free trade area in the world with a population of 1.2 billion people and a total Gross Domestic Product of about US $2.5 trillion.
President Akufo-Addo in a symbolic gesture handed over a scroll and keys to the Secretary to the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Mr. Moussa Faki, signifying the official handing over.
President Akufo-Addo also announced that Ghana had secured and furnished a befitting residential accommodation to house the Secretary General and his family in Accra.
Addressing the gathering which included former President Rawlings, Ministers of State and AU officials, President Akufo-Addo noted that this was the first in Ghana’s 63 years history as nationhood and the 57 years of the founding of African Union that Ghana had had the responsibility and privilege of hosting an important Pan-African institution.
He said the fact was that trade between African countries remained low standing at 16 per cent of its combined GDP compared with European Union whose intra-trade stood at 75 per cent, and stated that these low levels of intra-regional trade constitute reasons for continuing poverty that hinder Africa’s prospects of bringing prosperity to its people.
He said increasing intra African trade would lead to rapid increase in the exchange of agricultural industrial, financial, scientific and technological products, which would significantly enhance Africa’s economic fortunes, create profit and provide opportunities for employment for the broad masses of Africans youth.
“The economic integration of Africa will lay the foundation for an Africa Beyond Aid”, the President stated, and noted that the implementation of the AfCFTA would dispel the notion that the AU was not capable of executing its own decisions.
In this regard, he appealed to all member states who were yet to ratify the agreement to take advantage of the postponement of the date for the start of trading and do so by December 2020 to enable the continent trade fully amongst itself so that it could harness the benefits of the trade together.
President Akufo-Addo said the COVID-19 pandemic had disrupted the global supply chains and reinforced the necessity for closer integration amongst Africans so that they could build their mutual self-sufficiency, strengthen their commitment to reduce its dependence on external sources.
President Akufo-Addo urged member states to put in extra effort to conclude all their outstanding implementation issues for the adoption by the AU Assembly in the next Extraordinary Summit scheduled for December 2020, to pave way for the smooth commencement of trading in January 1, 2021.
He urged the Secretary General and his staff to work towards building a strong, efficient and effective secretariat with the capacity to implement the various trade rules in line with the agreement to help build credibility and reduce trade policy uncertainty in the continent.
President Akufo-Addo commended the sterling efforts of former President J.J. Rawlings and his wife, Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings; former President J A Kufuor; Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II and other government officials for the diverse roles they played in helping to promote Ghana’s successful bid to host the secretariat.
Mr. Wamkele Mene, the inaugural Secretary General, described 2020 as the year of silencing the guns and providing an opportunity to focus on fast-tracking Africa’s development objectives and ensure the successful implementation of the Free Trade Area to attain prosperity for the people.
He regretted that while many countries were able to provide billions of dollars worth of stimulus packages to re-inject growth and economic activity into their countries during the COVID-19 pandemic, very few African countries had the fiscal policy and monetary policy space to provide similar stimulus packages.
He was of the conviction that an aggressive implementation of the Free Trade Area had the potential to be Africa’s economic recovery.