Wamkele Mene, secretary-general of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat,
spoke on January 1, 2021, at the AfCFTA Start of Trading Ceremony Webinar. His comments have been edited to fit this format.
Truly today is a historic day, a day in which we start officially trading under the preferences of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Today is a day we take Africa a step closer to a vision of an integrated market on the African continent.
This AfCFTA should not just be a trade agreement; it should actually be an instrument for Africa’s development. In this regard, we have seen the World Bank produce a report that projects that by 2035, if we implement this agreement effectively, we have the opportunity to lift out of poverty 100 million Africans. And the majority of this 100 million are women in trade. It will be the opportunity to close the gender income gap, and the opportunity for SMEs [small and medium enterprises] to access new markets.
We are working very closely with our technical partners to develop digital technology platforms that will enable connectivity of SMEs and enable connectivity of young Africans in trade.
This agreement does not benefit only the big corporations on the African continent, but it should always be inclusive of young Africans, women and African SMEs.
Today, as Africans, we are witnessing the beginning of a new chapter in terms of trade and investment relations.
I’m truly proud today because 54 countries have signed this agreement, 33 have ratified it, over 40 have submitted their tariff offers. This is a strong signal that Africa is ready to start trading today on the basis of new rules and preferences that will ensure that the African market is integrated.
We have to take active steps to overcome the smallness of our respective national economies. We have to take active steps to overcome the lack of economies of scale. We have to take active steps to make sure that we place Africa on the path of industrial development so that by the year 2035, we’re able to double intra-Africa trade with value-added goods.
As I observed in the past, we have to take active steps to dismantle the colonial economic model that we inherited and that has been sustained over the past 60 years. We have to stop being exporters of primary products to countries of the North. We have to create jobs on the African continent by developing our regional value chains and be self-sufficient in our own continental production.
In 2020, COVID-19 has demonstrated that Africa is overly reliant on global supply chains, and when these global chains are disrupted, Africa suffers.
So we have to take active steps to make sure this industrial development is accelerated, and this AfCFTA and the launch of trading today are the first steps we take in that direction.
I want you, Africans, to join me as we take this historic step to the vision of an integrated Africa, the Africa we want.