The First Coordination Meeting of the Heads of Regional Economic Communities (RECs) on the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) opened in Accra yesterday to develop a framework of collaboration.
The purpose of the meeting is to draw lessons from the experiences of the RECs and prepare actionable strategies towards the effective implementation of the AfCFTA.
Opening the meeting, the Vice-President, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, said the AfCFTA had the potential to be the game changer for the transformation of Africa's economies and post-COVID-19 recovery if they could harness its numerous benefits.
Without a doubt, he said in an address read on his behalf by the Senior Presidential Advisor, Mr Yaw Osafo-Maafo, that the scale and scope of those benefits depended on the effective implementation of the AfCFTA agreement.
Dr Bawumia noted that the meeting was key and timely, especially coming in the ninth month of the official launch of trading under the AfCFTA preferences.
The agreement establishing the AfCFTA, he said, manifested Africa’s commitment to solidarity and cooperation and it incorporated the RECs within the architecture of the AfCFTA.
“In this regard, it would be recalled that one of the key principles governing the AfCFTA is the preservation of the Acquis. In the context of the AfCFTA, this means preserving and building on the achievements of the existing recognised RECs. The REC free trade areas (FTAs) are the building blocks for the AfCFTA,” he said.
Dr Bawumia said the RECs, therefore, had a very important role to play in the advancement of Africa’s integration agenda and the implementation of the AfCFTA, adding that the progress that the RECs had made, as well as the challenges they had faced over the years, positioned them to promote trade integration among their member states.
“While we must appreciate the contribution of the RECs in the continent’s integration process, it is important to also recognise that there have been discrepancies in their performance to achieve the objectives of the Abuja Treaty establishing the African Economic Community.
“We should, therefore, seek always to address the gaps in their performance and harvest the positive experiences in working together in a balanced pace towards the implementation of the continental integration agenda,” he emphasised.
Dr Bawumia said the 2019 report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) indicated that total trade from Africa to the rest of the world averaged $760 billion in current prices during the period 2015-2017, compared with $481 billion from Oceania, $4,109 billion from Europe, $5,140 billion from America and $6,801 billion from Asia.
In addition, he said, intra-African trade (defined as the average of intra-African exports and imports), was around two per cent during the period 2015-2017, while comparative figures for America (47 per cent), Asia (61 per cent), Europe (67 per cent) and Oceania (seven per cent) were higher.
Furthermore, Dr Bawumia said intra-African exports were 16.6 per cent of total exports in 2017, compared with 68.1 per cent in Europe, 59.4 per cent in Asia, 55 per cent in America and 7.9 per cent in Oceania, adding that the statistics cited “are very worrying and justifies the need to fast-track the implementation of AfCFTA”.
“We need the RECs to function well if the AfCFTA is to achieve the desired outcomes: enhanced intra-Africa trade, economic transformation, job creation for the teeming youthful population, poverty reduction, among others,” he said.
The Secretary General of the AfCFTA Secretariat, Mr Wamkele Mene, said in order to implement the AfCFTA, the RECs would have to make informed choices about how to benefit from the initiative, while at the same time managing the challenges that they might encounter in the course of implementation.
Moreover, he said, the implementation of the AfCFTA would likely influence future trading policies of the RECs, which was so important to commence collaboration at the current stage.
“In this regard, effective collaboration between the RECs and the AfCFTA Secretariat is necessary to ensure that AfCFTA outcomes are consistent with the advances and progress made in integration at the level of the RECs,” he said.
The African Union Commissioner for Trade and Industry, Ambassador Albert Muchanga, among other things, underscored the support of the union to the meeting.