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INTERVIEW BEYOND20


‘Iwantustodouble intra-Africantrade by2035’


THE AFRICAN CONTINENTAL FREE TRADE AREA HAS A CHANCE TO BOOST REGIONAL TRADE, SECRETARY WAMKELE MENE TELLS JASON MITCHELL


A


There are 54 countries that have signed the agreement out of 55 on the continent. There


are 36 nations that have ratified it and under- taken the legal obligations for market opening, reducing barriers to trade and so on. On 1 January, 2021, out of those 36 countries, a hand- ful of them – including South Africa, Egypt, and Ghana – had the necessary customs infrastruc- ture in place to tradeaccording tothepreferences of the agreement. The other countries among that groupof 36 are in the process of establishing that customsinfrastructure. Because we know that not all countries are


the world’s biggest free trade area measured by the number of countries participating. The pact connects 1.3 billion people across 54 countries with a total gross domestic product of $3.4tn, according to the World Bank. The AfCFTA came into being on January 1, and secretary Wamkele Mene tells Jason Mitchell that doubling intra-Afri- can trade by2035“is perfectly within reach”.


W


lift100million Africansoutofpoverty–including 30 million out of extreme poverty – by the year 2035, according to the World Bank. We have to work very, very hard to make sure that this very encouragingpositiveprojectionbecomesareality. But we know that it is possible because we have seen how transformative trade can be in other parts of theworld.


Q A


Q 44


How many African countries have fully ratified the pact and are in the process of


implementing it?


Does AfCFTA have the potential to trans- formthe continent?


Yes, absolutely. If the agreement is imple- mented effectively, we have the potential to


ready with the customs procedures and infra- structure – in particular because for 10 months they were fighting Covid-19 and got delayed – we agreed that traders would start to trade from1 January,andifthecountryyouareexportingto is not ready in terms of customs procedures and infrastructure, youare entitled as a trader toget a credit.


ith a secretariat based in Accra, the Ghanaian capital, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is


Q A


That seems a very bureaucratic process.


It is a legal process; we are dealing with a legally binding agreement. There is no other


waytodevisealegallysoundmethod.Theheadsof statedecidedthatbytheendofJune2021allcoun- tries must have ratified the agreement, all coun- tries must have the requisite customs infrastruc- ture in place. Let me just say this: I have never seen a trade


agreement where everybody implements at the same time on day one. I have been negotiating trade agreements allmylife and I have never seen it. Even if you go back as far as 1951 when the European Coal and SteelCommunity was agreed to, it took a long time before [countries imple- mented it fully]. While it is perfectly understanda- ble that there are legitimate questions about whether we are trading or not, I think we also have to bear in mind that a trade agreement does nothappenovernight. Projections for benefits are between 15and20years.


Q


Let’s take an example. If, at the end of June, we have two countries, let’s say Malawi and Zambia, and Malawi is not allow-


www.fDiIntelligence.com April/May 2021


Artwork by Sam Kerr


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