Policy and advocacy think tank, AfroChampions, has advised that the July 2020 date for the commencement of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) should not be rescheduled due to the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus.
The commencement of trading within the AfCFTA is slated for 1st July 2020.
According to the policy and advocacy think tank, though the highly anticipated July 2020 start of the AfCFTA is at risk, African governments can use the opportunity to rather trade in critical goods needed to fight the pandemic such as pharmaceutical and food products.
The group in their AfCFTA Year Zero Report stated that “The July 2020 date for start of AfCFTA Trading should not be postponed even if the pandemic persists into July. If AfCFTA trading can take off in the middle of this battle – even if symbolically – will send a strong signal; it should be one of the symbolic victories for Africa in the midst of a crisis. Initial AfCFTA trade can focus on critical goods needed to fight the pandemic such as pharmaceuticals and food products. Governments should ease border crossings for these goods. The AfCFTA can be one of Africa’s main weapons to beat COVID-19,”
The report also noted that though the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) may have setbacks because of the global outbreak of the novel Coronavirus pandemic, “AfCFTA negotiations should continue via online and video-conferencing platforms. If done right virtual negotiations could prove to be even faster and cheaper than face to face meetings for certain aspects of the negotiations process.”
It also notes that the AfCFTA Secretariat, which is temporarily operating out of Addis Ababa, should continue with its staff recruitment and operationalize a fully functional virtual office with newly recruited teams working virtually from their homes across the continent.
It will be recalled that during the closed session of the 33rd AU Summit, in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, President Akufo-Addo assured the Assembly of Heads of State and Governments of the African Union that the AfCFTA Secretariat will be operational in Acca by 31st March, 2020, but this has delayed.
The AfCFTA Secretary-General has also been sworn in, but is without the full complement of secretariat teams due to disruptions to recruitment and staffing.
Among other recommendations, the AfroChampions urge the African Union to convene a major virtual meeting of African trade ministers to deliberate on ways to keep the AfCFTA on track.
“A fully virtual mode of meetings should be activated to keep the process going,” it stated.
They also called on the African Union to request Ministers of Trade to present COVID-19-IMPACT reports of their proposed AfCFTA plans or their already prepared BIAT.
“Each of the member states that has ratified should be made to present a COVID-19-ADJUSTED plan to project how they plan to catch up in the post COVID-19 period,” they added.
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) as of 2018 includes 28 countries.
It seeks to establish a single market for goods and services across 54 countries, allow the free movement of business travelers and investments, and create a continental customs union to streamline trade – and attract long-term investment.
With a combined market of over 1.2 billion people (which is expected to grow to 2.5 billion by 2050) and a GDP of $2.5 trillion, AfCFTA could potentially make Africa the largest free trade area in the world since the formation of the World Trade Organisation.