Tunis, August 1st, 2019 (ECA): The Economic Commission for Africa and the Ministry of Trade of the Republic of Tunisia held on Monday 29 July in Tunis and Wednesday 31 July 31 in Sfax the National Forum on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
The Forum, which aimed to raise national stakeholders' awareness on the importance of a stronger ownership and involvement in the implementation of the AfCFTA, took place with the participation of Tunisian Minister of Trade Omar Behi, the Center for Export Promotion CEO Mohamed Lassad Laabidi, the President of the Sfax Chamber of Commerce and Industry Ridha Fourati and a number of high-level officials, Private sector and civil society representatives as well as members of Parliament.
[This meeting aims to] initiate the drafting of a national AfCFTA strategy and dedicated institutional arrangements to carry out the implementation and fully exploit the opportunities it offers," said Minister Omar Behi in his opening speech.
During the discussions held in Tunis and Sfax, participants agreed on the potential positive implications of the AfCFTA for the Tunisian economy. Economic sectors most likely to benefit from the new free trade zone in Tunisia include the pharmaceutical, agri-food, building materials sectors as well as the services sectors, especially in the fields of engineering and medical services.
Africa has become a growing priority in Tunisia's strategic, economic policy orientations. Over the last few years, the country has joined the COMESA, strengthened its relations with ECOWAS, launched an annual African Economic Forum and participated in all negotiation phases for the establishment of the AfCFTA.
"These efforts would remain incomplete if we don't popularize the progress made on the negotiation front, especially among the business community, or if we don't build a collective involvement around both the process and our objectives", said the Tunisian Minister of Trade. Omar Behi stressed that technical discussions are currently taking place in a number of areas, including the AfCFTA regulatory and legal frameworks (regulatory cooperation on rules of origin, lists of specific commitments, etc.).
The Forum participants agreed that, in order to better seize its potential, Tunisia will need to ratify the agreement soon; it will also need to bring national regulations in line with AfCFTA requirements.
The AfCFTA, which came into force on 30 May 2019, is the largest free trade area in the world, with the highest number of countries, a combined GDP of more than US $2,500 billion and a population of 1.2 billion which is expected to double and become home to 26% of the world's working-age population by 2050.
Intra-regional trade in Africa currently accounts for only 16 percent of the region's foreign trade, which makes it much lower than intra-regional trade within Asia (more than 50 percent) or Europe (about 70 percent). The AfCFTA is expected to increase intra-African trade by more than 50 percent, regional GDP by more than $ 40 billion and exports by more than $ 55 billion, said Omar Abdourahman, an economist at the ECA Office for North Africa.
Regional Economic Communities are important components of the AfCFTA. Currently, the African Union is working mainly with eight Regional Economic Communities (RECs), which are thus considered as the main pillars of integration in Africa. Tunisia is already part of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and has observer status with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). This confirms Tunisia's grounding in the African region and its position as a key player in the implementation of the AfCFTA.
ECA held the National Forum on the African Continental Free Trade Area in Tunisia as part of a several meetings organised with EU funding, with the aim of raising awareness among member countries.
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Economic Commission for Africa
Office for North Africa
Tel: +212 (0) 537 548 749