The first Secretary-General of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Wamkele Mene pledged to ensure that the agreement is implemented to ensure there is shared and inclusive economic growth on the continent.
Mene, a South African, made the pledge after he was sworn in at a ceremony at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Thursday.
Mene said that the AfCFTA offers Africa an opportunity to confront significant trade and economic development challenges which have resulted in a very low percentage of intra-Africa trade of just 18%.
“It (AfCFTA) has the potential to enable Africa to significantly boost intra-Africa trade, improve economies of scale and to establish an integrated market. It has the potential to be a catalyst for industrial development, placing Africa on a path to exporting value-added products, improving Africa’s competitiveness both in its own markets and globally,” Mene said.
Among his other pledges is to address the issue of third-party goods and transhipment of goods. This issue will be addressed in the AfCFTA negotiations on Rules of Origin which a joint task force of African customs authorities & senior trade officials will work on.
Another pledge is establishing AfCFTA regional value chains with member states by prioritising high potential sectors such agroprocessing, pharmaceutical, automotive and manufacturing. This will allow countries to focus on their areas of specialty to improve productive capacity and boost economic growth.
Mene also set out his vision to to focus on African women, youth and SMEs to support their inclusion in the AfCFTA.
“In due course, I will announce specific measures that can be put in place to enable women, young Africans and SMEs, to benefit from the AfCFTA to achieve the objective of inclusive benefits of the AfCFTA and shared growth across the continent,” he said.
Mene was elected by the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the AU as the first Secretary-General of the AfCFTA in February.
Mene, who was a senior trade diplomat, served as South Africa’s chief negotiator in the AfCFTA negotiations.
According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the AfCFTA is, by the number of participating countries, the largest trade agreement since the formation of the World Trade Organisation.
So far, 54 African countries have signed the agreement while 30 have ratified it. The agreement is expected to become operational from July 2020.