Kigali — Deputy Executive Secretary Giovanie Biha of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) on Monday issued an impassioned plea for countries that are yet to sign the historic African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) to do so while also urging those that have already signed to ratify the accord so it can go into force.
In her opening remarks to the 2018 African Economic Conference that begun in Kigali Monday under the theme; Regional and continental integration for Africa's development, Ms. Biha said it was time everyone interested in Africa's future and the continent taking its rightful place on the global arena galvanized around the AfCFTA.
"I urge all interested in building better lives across Africa to collectively promote the AfCFTA through our respective national legislative processes," she said.
"The significance of the AfCFTA achievement is not to be underestimated. Overall, the vision of African continental integration to which the AfCFTA aspires is over 50 years old. It originates in an appreciation that the political independence achieved with decolonisation would be ineffective in realizing a better life for the peoples of Africa unless consummated with economic independence."
Ms. Biha said as with political independence, this 'economic decolonisation' was thought to be best leveraged through a regional approach.
She said it was impressive that most African countries, despite their differences, have been able to seek compromise, broker agreement, and come together with a single legally binding treaty that aspires for the full potential of economic integration in Africa.
Ms. Biha said for the AfCFTA to "Leave no one behind", the agreement needs to be approached strategically.
"For the AfCFTA to truly deliver on expected transformative objectives, it will be necessary to ensure that the benefits are indeed shared. This includes a special attention on gender equality, among other issues of inclusiveness, in the AfCFTA process," she said.
The ECA has already began assisting African countries to develop national AfCFTA implementation strategies that will complement the broader trade policy of each country and identify key trade opportunities, current constraints and steps required to take full advantage of the AfCFTA. The national strategies will also provide guidance on how to set up AfCFTA national implementation committees.
"Together, with other partners ECA stands ready to further ensure a successful AfCFTA that delivers upon its aspirations and the achievement of Agenda 2030 and Agenda 2063, for the Africa We Want," said Ms. Biha.
The Deputy Executive Secretary also participated in a high-level panel discussion on drivers, opportunities and lessons for Africa's integration.
Professor Paul Collier of the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom delivered the keynote address in which he urged African countries to rally behind the AfCFTA and encouraged the continent not to offer the European Union open access to its markets in economic trade agreements.
He said Europe should be the one to offer African nations open access to its markets as an incentive for the African countries to trade with each other.
The session engaged high-level principals from the ECA, the African Development Bank and the UNDP as well as high-level experts, policymakers and practitioners in sharing their reflections and perspectives on regional and continental integration for Africa's development.