SEATINI Organizes a High Level Stakeholder Meeting on the AfCFTA
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was created by a Free Trade Agreement between the African Union member States, aiming at creating a single continental market for goods and services as well as a customs union with free movement of capital and persons. The continental Free Trade zone is expected to cover a market of more than 1.2 billion people, including a growing middle class, and a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of more than US$3.4 trillion.
In total, 44 out of the 55 African Union (AU) member states signed the consolidated text of the AfCFTA Agreement, 47 signed the Kigali Declaration and 30 signed the Protocol on Free Movement. As at May 2020, only Eritrea has yet to sign the consolidated text of the AfCFTA Agreement.
The commencement of trading under the AfCFTA was initially slated for 1st July 2020. However, the negotiations and launch were postponed due to the coronavirus, inorder to give governments space to address this unprecedented public health crisis.
As part of the project on “Promoting EAC Civil Society’s engagement on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)” and with support from the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), on 29th July 2020, SEATINI Uganda organized a high level stakeholder meeting on the AfCFTA. The purpose of the meeting was to update Civil Society, Private Sector and other stakeholders on progress of the AfCFTA negotiations, draw stakeholders’ attention to outstanding issues and to generate views and positions on the AfCFTA negotiation texts.
While giving opening remarks, SEATINI Uganda Executive Director, Ms. Jane Nalunga noted that a number of stakeholders are not effectively participating in processes like the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) partly because they don’t have sufficient information about the process and how to engage. She added that this is why SEATINI organized this meeting to update stakeholders on progress of negotiations inorder to effectively participate.
Some of the key issues discussed during the meeting included the following;
- Standards and quality infrastructure need to be prioritized inorder to make AfCFTA work;
- The AfCFTA will cover five key priority service sectors i.e. business, communication, financial, transport and tourism services.
- The private sector needs to be supported to develop effective marketing strategies for various products inorder to benefits from opportunities provided by AfCFTA;
- We need to talk more about the implementation process of the AfCFTA rather than the negotiations process.
- The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) estimates that the CFTA could increase trade between African countries by as much as $35 billion, an increase of more than 50 percent from current levels.
- In terms of Africa exports; analysis indicates that Africa exports more to the European Union; where exports increased from USD 95.82Bn in 2015 to USD 159.38Bn in 2019 compared to exports within Africa; that declined from USD 71.48Bn in 2015 to USD 57.91 Bn in 2019.
While addressing the meeting, Mr. Emmanuel Mutahunga, Commissioner, External Trade, Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives (MTIC) indicated that whereas AfCFTA has vast opportunities for EAC’s entrepreneurs and service providers, it is important to draw lessons from the regions’ current dismal trade and address the causes in order to make AfCFTA work.
On the next steps, cabinet in Uganda will meet to be briefed on the progress of negotiations and on what products that Uganda is liberalizing, progressively opening up and excluding from the negotiations. This meeting is geared towards updating cabinet on progress of negotiations especially on outstanding issues and also settled unresolved issues including issues Rules of origin, market access offers and trade in services. After this, the Public will be consulted for final position before submitting to the EAC for a consolidated regional position.
SEATINI Uganda has been monitoring the AfCFTA negotiations with keen interest. Various stakeholder engagements have been organized and several briefs and papers have been published to encourage debate and inform policymakers, government officials, and stakeholders on key issues involved in the negotiation of Africa’s own mega-regional trade agreement.
Most recently, SEATINI submitted a Position Paper to the AfCFTA Secretariat urging the secretariat to halt AfCFTA negotiations and commencement of Trading on 1st July 2020. This was sought given the unpreparedness by the AU Member States to finalize on the 21 Directives by the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) held on 09th-10th February 2020 in Addis Ababa. This position was received by the AU AfCFTA Secretariat and shared with the AU Commission and was reflected in the report to the Council of Ministers on citizens perceptions on AfCFTA commencement amid COVID-19. Subsequently, AfCFTA implementation has been put on halt and calls for review of the Phase 1 commitments have been reignited.