The United Nations (UN) has pledged its full support to the African Union (AU) as member nations begin the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
As designed by the AU, the AfCFTA agreement is expected to unleash the continent’s all-inclusive economic potential.
UN’s Deputy Secretary-General, Ms. Amina J Mohammed, gave the pledge in a statement by the Communications Section of Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Office at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
She gave the pledge on behalf of the world body at the weekend in a remark on the 12th Extraordinary Session of the AU on the AfCFTA.
Ms. Mohammed assured the AU of UN’s readiness to work in partnership with African countries as they move to implement the historic and game-changing agreement.
She said: “We are already working with 16 African governments to develop national strategies to maximise the opportunities created by this agreement, and we will increase this number from next year.
“We are committed to working with African institutions to mobilise the resources that will be required for full implementation of the AfCFTA. In the first instance, the African Regional Integration Trust Fund will support countries to mobilize resources to finance regional integration.”
Ms. Mohammed said the UN will work with the African Union to coordinate and leverage complementary funding sources from the African Development Bank’s Africa50 Fund, to the African Union’s Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), and China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The United Nations ECA, she said, is supporting the process of mainstreaming gender and youth employment initiatives into national strategies.
“This will help to ensure that trade policy is both gender-sensitive and responds to demographic realities, thereby contributing more fully to sustainable development,” the UN deputy chief said.
“Trade can contribute to either widening or closing inclusion and gender gaps, depending on how the process is managed. So we are also working with governments to counterbalance the distributional and gender-differentiated effects of trade liberalisation.”
Ms. Mohammed said it was essential to act now, not only to ensure that women benefit from the AfCFTA but also the African youth given the demographic challenges facing the continent.
She told the African leaders gathered for the landmark occasion to officially launch the AfCFTA that entry into force of the accord was a momentous step.
“But as you have recognised, it is a first step. Realising its full potential will require changes and improvements in several important areas, including infrastructure development, capacity to export, and non-tariff barriers,” Ms. Mohammed added.
The AU’s Phase II of the AfCFTA negotiations will tackle competition, investment, and intellectual property rights, which the UNDSG said were some of the regulatory obstacles that create dysfunction in integrated markets.
“I urge you to move decisively and quickly during the transitional period up to 1 July 2020 to reap the rewards of this historic agreement,” she said, adding, “Africans should take particular pride in reaching this agreement at a time of growing protectionism and rising trade tensions that threaten economic stability and progress around the world.
From free trade to climate change and migration, African countries and regional organisations are developing progressive policies that demonstrate global responsibility and forge a new path for multilateralism and sustainability, Ms. Mohammed said.
“The entire UN System will continue to support African countries as you accelerate the continent’s development. Together, we will realise our shared vision of Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), leaving no one behind,” she added.
With the world’s largest free trade area, encompassing 54 countries and 1.2 billion people, the AfCFTA would bring the promise of trade-led economic growth closer to reality for Africa’s entrepreneurs, industrialists, investors, innovators and service suppliers, said Ms. Mohammed.
She said: “It will create jobs and contribute to technology-transfer and the development of new skills; it will improve productive capacity and diversification; and it will increase African and foreign investment.
“Perhaps most important of all, the African Continental Free Trade Area demonstrates the common will of African countries to work together to achieve the vision of the Africa Union’s Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want.”
It is a tool to unleash African innovation, drive growth, transform African economies and contribute to a prosperous, stable and peaceful African continent, as foreseen in both Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Ms. Mohammed added.
Nigeria and Benin signed the historic agreement during the opening session of the summit on Sunday morning.