1 May 2017

As the Deadline for the Continental Free Trade Area Looms, Experts Consider Its Future

Addis Ababa — The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) convened a two-day expert group meeting to review the Eighth Edition of the Assessing Regional Integration in Africa (ARIA) report on the theme, "Bringing the CFTA About". The joint annual report of the ECA, African Union Commission (AUC) and African Development Bank (AfDB) aims to support the negotiation, conclusion, and effective implementation of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA).

The meeting gathered a broad range of experts in the fields of trade economics, trade law, political economy and regional integration, drawn from academia, research organizations and think tanks, civil society, private sector advocacy organizations, Regional Economic Communities and international agencies.

In his keynote address, Albert Muchanga, Commissioner for Trade and Industry of the African Union Commission welcomed the focus on the state of play on the Continental Free Trade Area project as he said, it would assist policy makers, advisors and negotiators to meet the indicative deadline of December, 2017. He pointed out that Africa is annually short of US$120 billion in trade finance and underscored that not acting concretely will have an adverse impact on implementing the Action Plan on Boosting Intra-African Trade. He urged the experts to come up with an ARIA report that would resolve the problem.

Commenting on the current draft of ARIA 8, he suggested including trends on the economic growth rates of African countries. "I am interested in this issue because the literature is clear on strong economic growth as a prerequisite for stronger economic integration", he emphasized.

He also proposed the need for Trade Ministers and Heads of State and Government to consider alternatives to the suggestion by some, that a CFTA secretariat should be created as part of the African Union.

For his part, David Luke, Coordinator of the African Trade Policy Centre (ATPC) said in his opening remarks, "The ARIA report is to ensure that policy makers receive solid policy recommendations based on evidence."

The CFTA being one of the flagship project of the Agenda 2063 and contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals, the selected theme for this edition "Bringing the CFTA About" is opportune and appropriate.

Mr. Luke said that the report looks beyond policy conceptualization to focus on the biggest regional integration challenge currently facing the continent: How to achieve the CFTA and ensure its effective implementation.

The ARIA VIII report will be launched on the margins of the African Union Summit scheduled for July 2017.

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