With a provision of a $5 million institutional support grant by the African Development Bank Group, African Union Commission has launched the permanent secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to ensure the economic transformation of the continent.
AfCFTA permanent secretariat would be located in an ultra-modern office complex in the Central Business District of Ghanaian capital, Accra.
Speaking at the ceremony on Monday, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo and Chairperson, AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, reaffirmed the importance of the body to the continent’s economic transformation agenda.
“The economic integration of Africa will lay strong foundations for an Africa beyond aid. Africa’s new sense of urgency and aspiration of true self-reliance will be amply demonstrated by today’s ceremony,” Akufo-Addo said.
Akufo-Addo appealed to member states that have not ratified to do so before the next AU summit in December in order “to pave the way for the smooth commencement of trading from 1 January, 2021.”
The global novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has heightened the importance of the success of AfCFTA, the Ghanaian president said.
“The destruction of global supply chains has reinforced the necessity for closer integration amongst us so that we can boost our mutual self-sufficiency, strengthen our economies and reduce our dependence on external sources,” he said.
Ghana was selected as the venue for the headquarters by African leaders during a Summit of AU Heads of states in Niamey in July last year, to launch the implementation phase of the agreement, which is expected to spur regional trade among member countries.
Currently, 54 states have signed on to AfCFTA, out of which 28 have ratified the agreement.
AfCFTA, the world’s largest free trade area, has the potential to transform the continent with its potential market of 1.2 billion people and combined GDP of around $3 trillion across the 54-member states of AU.
Mahamat said the opening of the secretariat marked a milestone in the vision of Africa’s founding founders for continental integration.
Also speaking, the first AfCFTA Secretary-General, Wamkele Mene, said the agreement offered an opportunity for Africa to confront the significant trade and economic development challenges: market fragmentation, small national economies, over-reliance on primary commodity exports, narrow export base, lack of export specialisation, under-developed regional value chains and high regulatory and tariff barriers to trade.
“We have to take action now. We have to take action to dismantle the colonial economic model that we inherited,” Mene reiterated.
The Vice President for the Private Sector, Infrastructure and Industrialisation of the African Development Bank, Solomon Quaynor, said the establishment of AfCFTA permanent secretariat is in keeping with the bank’s role of continental leadership in helping to build special-purpose vehicles that are critical to the successful implementation of crucial institutions to accelerate Africa’s economic development objectives.
“The African Development Bank congratulates the AU/AfCFTA on the investiture of the Secretariat hosted by Ghana on 17 August 2020.
“The bank is delighted to be associated with this groundbreaking, game-changing, transformational continental initiative in furtherance of the objective to create the Africa we want.
“Our support to AfCFTA is in keeping with the bank’s role of continental leadership in helping to build special-purpose vehicles that are critical to the successful implementation of crucial institutions to accelerate Africa’s economic development objectives,” Quaynor added.
The event also featured virtual goodwill remarks from AU Chairman, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, and Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou.