Policy and advocacy think tank, AfroChampions, is urging African Trade Ministers to convene a virtual summit under the aegis of the African Union to keep on track the operation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) amidst the Coronavirus pandemic.
According to the policy group, this high-level meeting would be an opportunity to discuss practical measures to pursue African economic integration despite the COVID-19 pandemic to take advantage of the existing AfCFTA provisions to respond to the health emergency, and to also consider a broader strengthening of capacities and infrastructure to help Africa recover from the crisis over the long-term.
The AfroChampions Initiative, in an official appeal, proposed the summit to also include economic decision-makers, heads of African multinationals and business associations as well as representatives of the continent’s major financial institutions.
It says the agenda should be concise and action-oriented to address operational measures such as the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers for the free movement of goods, medical supplies, and commodities required to limit the spread of the coronavirus as well as its effects on communities.
It is also proposing overall strategic measures such as the continuation of the existing negotiations on key AfCFTA aspects operationalization of the AfCFTA Secretariat, prioritization of some initial implementation protocols starting July 2020, that will help Africa recover quicker from the economic disruptions of COVID-19.
Paulo Gomes, Vice President of the AfroChampions Initiative and former Executive Director at the World Bank, stated that, “Some observers believe that the AfCFTA is meant to fail because the required infrastructure is not yet in place. COVID-19 is a reason to accelerate AfCFTA; not slow it down as is now the case. Being confronted with emergency forces us to move forward. In the current crisis, we can implement measures in the health sector to support local production of equipment and treatments, boost orders of ‘made in Africa’ pharmaceuticals and medicines, optimize transport and logistics costs, and facilitate deliveries from one point to another in spite of travel restrictions. On all these points, the AfCFTA can provide concrete answers. From this test in the health sector, we can draw useful lessons for other sectors.”
While hoping that the proposed virtual summit of Trade Ministers will be confirmed soon, the AfroChampions Initiative and its research department have developed the first set of proposals for discussion on how the AfCFTA can adjust to COVID-19 disruptions to stay on track, as well as an indicative assessment of African states’ readiness ahead of the practical opening of the African common market.
Several business leaders from the AfroChampions network and regional business associations have also been approached to contribute to this agenda.
About the AfCFTA
The African Continental Free Trade Agreement was brokered by the African Union (AU) and was signed on by 44 of its 55 member states in Kigali, Rwanda on March 21, 2018.
The agreement initially requires members to remove tariffs from 90% of goods, allowing free access to commodities, goods, and services across the continent
It also 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.