9 July 2019

Africa: AfCFTA May Boost Inter-African Trade By 25% - UN Chief

The United Nations (UN) Economic Commission for Africa, Stephen Karingi, has said the new African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, which entered into force on May 30th has the capacity to increase inter-African trade by between 15 and 25 per cent, with two-thirds of gains in industrial goods trade.

Karingi, said this during one of the sessions at the Aid for Trade Global Review organised recently by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

According to him, the potential growth in inter-African trade figure was important for African countries seeking to reduce their dependence on raw commodities and provides a good incentive for policies promoting industrialisation and diversification.

Panellists further discussed the foreseen impact of the AfCFTA and its potential to facilitate economic diversification and empowerment.

Nigeria at the weekend in Niamey, Niger Republic, officially joined the AfCFTA as President Muhammadu Buhari finally signed the agreement at the opening of the AU Summit.

The president's spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, in a statement, said Buhari signed the treaty in the presence of other African heads of state and governments, delegates and representatives from the private sector, civil society and the media, which attended the 12th Extraordinary Summit of the African Union on the launch of the Operational Phase of the AfCFTA.

The phase one of the agreement was adopted by AU Heads of State and Governments at its 10th Extraordinary Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, on March 21, 2018. But Nigeria pulled out of the agreement signing ceremony at the last minute, following agitations from the private sector that the agreement would make Nigeria a dumping ground for goods and services in Africa.

Consequently, the president set up a committee to make wider consultations on the agreement with a view to coming up with recommendations on whether Nigeria should join AfCFTA or not.

The committee, while submitting its report on June 27, had advised Buhari to sign the agreement, listing a number of factors, which aided the committee's recommendations and the benefits accruable from it.

Meanwhile, economic diversification and empowerment of women were identified as being essential in achieving a fairer and more efficient trading environment, speakers at various sessions at WTO forum stated.

According to the panellists, even though the global economy offers many opportunities for enterprises to grow, much remained to be done in areas such as fisheries subsidies to safeguard resources and to ensure that the benefits of trade can reach more people.

They noted that more must be done to ensure that the global economy better meet the needs of underserved stakeholders, including vulnerable countries, women traders and the youth.

"Global fish stocks are being depleted. According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), 33 per cent of global stocks are overfished, and most of the rest are at their limits. This should be of concern to us all," the WTO Director-General, Roberto Azevêdo said at the plenary.

"Depleted stocks mean depleted economic activity for coastal communities, and millions around the world will lose their livelihoods. There is an urgent need to ensure sustainable use of oceans resources for future generations."

WTO members could make an important contribution by successfully concluding negotiations for new global rules that will curb harmful fisheries subsidies, Azevêdo added, emphasising the end-2019 deadline for an agreement.

Negotiators are currently under intense pressure amid the complex issues linked to fisheries management and sustainable development, he said, adding that complexities would surely re-emerge after new subsidy rules are finally agreed as members grapple with enforcement challenges.

"This is an important occasion to take stock of the fisheries assistance already being provided bilaterally and through international institutions and to consider what else would be needed to help with implementation of new rules," Azevêdo said.

"Of course, a new WTO agreement on fisheries subsidies by itself cannot address the whole spectrum of problems related to long-term fisheries sustainability but we can make an important contribution.

"So, let's be ambitious with that contribution," he said.

United Nations Special Envoy for the Oceans, Peter Thomson, likewise underlined the urgency of delivering a WTO fisheries subsidies agreement.

New rules are essential to have healthy fisheries, which in turn are essential for a sustainable "blue" economy, he said.

A panel of speakers went on to discuss the needs of developing and least-developed countries and the technical assistance that could be made available to enhance the implementation of a future WTO agreement on fisheries subsidies. Representatives from Myanmar, Liberia and Samoa gave their perspective on the challenges their countries face in combatting harmful fishing practices and the special and differential treatment they desire in the ongoing negotiations.

The need to support economic diversification and empowerment was addressed in four separate thematic sessions from different regional perspectives: Africa, Asia and Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Islamic Development Bank.

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