President Paul Biya and Vera Songwe Invigorate Cameroon-ECA Relations, Spotlight Free Trade Agreement

19 April 2019

Yaounde — On her first official visit to Cameroon after her appointment as UN Under Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ECA - Ms. Vera Songwe met with President Paul Biya and explored pathways to the country's emergence via: improved macroeconomic policies for diversification and job creation; leveraging the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), unleashing the power of the digital economy and firming up the 'tripod of peace, security and development."

During the over 90-minute tête-à-tête between President Biya and Ms. Songwe, the need for Cameroon to play a leadership role in harnessing the AfCFTA came into sharp focus.

According to ECA's Executive Secretary, "the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement is the tool that will help Africa weather the storm of a global environment that is less certain than it was before" so Cameroon should aim at ratifying it by the time the African Union meets in July this year, not just because it is a trade agreement but because it is also and investment agreement, a leeway for tapping into a 1.2 billion market size and a more than US$2.5 billion continental GDP.

Taking advantage of the AfCFTA would stimulate industrialization, value addition in both goods and services, leading to job creation, and consequently economic growth, she mooted.

"Cameroon is growing at between 3.5 and 4 percent but needs to grow to about 10 percent if we want to attain emergence," she told the media after the audience with Mr. Biya.

"We believe that Cameroon has an already much diversified economy and can build on this diversification to get there.

"I discussed with the President on the areas where Cameroon is competitive and where there is room to improve on its competitiveness."

Both personalities also discussed the digital economy and the promise it holds for jobs especially for the youths and women "and we believe that Cameroon can be a strong leader in that domain," she went on.

"We talked about the Silicon Mountain in Buea [located inn Cameroon's South West Region] and the innovations coming out of there that are gaining worldwide recognition but that the country can do more with its digital ecosystem by reducing the cost of broadband, increasing access to it and improving its quality" for better results.

The need to continue improving Cameroon's Doing Business environment also featured in the discussion at the Unity Palace - official name for Cameroon's presidential compound. Some of the salient issues in this area pertain to infrastructure development especially in terms of energy and transport.

While energy powers industrial productivity, transport facilitates exchanges within and without the country.

Ms. Songwe and President Biya specifically noted that the possibility of developing a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) - a transport system designed to improve capacity and reliability when compared to the conventional bus system, but which needs dedicated roadways.

The challenge of adapting to the hazards of climate change also featured in the discussion between both personalities. The case of the Lake Chad Basin which provides livelihood to 40 million people across Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria was spotlighted.

According to Ms. Songwe, it was important to work closely with Cameroon and the other member States sharing the resources of the basin, to tackle climate change in order to ward off conflict created by the scramble over the diminishing resources caused by a highly shrunk Lake Chad. She said discussions were underway with the UN Secretary-general for a specific strategy on the Lake Chad Basin.

The Head of ECA reiterated the connection between peace, security and development seen as the 'tripod' which informs the work of the UN - an organization undergoing reforms to become more fit for purpose in a changing global environment. In this regard, both personalities discussed ways of devising solutions to the current challenges Cameroon is facing in its northernmost regions as well as its South West and North West Regions.

The audience at the Unity Palace ended with President Paul Biya, conferring on Ms. Songwe the distinction of the Grand Officer of the National Order of Valor, which is the highest civilian medal in Cameroon.

Media Contact

Abel Akara Ticha - Communication Officer

UN Economic Commission for Africa

No 637 Rue 3.069, Quartier du Lac, Yaounde

Tel: 237 222504348

Email: akara@un.org

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