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African Union consults Ecowas on Continental Free Trade Area

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Joint Press Release – The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union Commission (AUC) consulted on the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) and on the action plan for Boosting Intra-African Trade (BIAT) in a two-day meeting which was held between the 3rd and 4th November 2015 in Abuja, Nigeria. 

The Objectives were to facilitate consultations and dialogue among ECOWAS Member States on the CFTA with a view to developing regional strategies for engagement in the CFTA negotiations and to identify areas for capacity building at the national and regional levels with the support of African Union Commission, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and other partners such as the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The meeting which was co-organized by ECOWAS, AUC, and UNECA, discussed the current state of trade liberalisation in the ECOWAS, BIAT action plans accompanied with M & E frameworks, studies on the trade potential of the CFTA, Principles Guiding the Negotiations for the CFTA, Institutional Arrangements for the Negotiation of the CFTA, technical issues on the CFTA and private sector views on the CFTA.     

In his opening remarks, Dr. David Luke, Coordinator of the Africa Trade Policy Centre (ATPC) at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, recalled that to drive the implementation process CFTA and BIAT Agenda, ATPC in collaboration with its partners are in the process of sensitizing the RECs and selected Member States. 

He explained that the rationale for BIAT to complement the CFTA agenda stems from the fact that trade complementarity across African countries are bound to remain limited even after the liberalization entailed by the CFTA. “There is no CFTA without BIAT and vice-versa. There is need to focus on ensuring that national productive capacities are enhanced taking advantage of regional and continental market access opportunities”, he emphasized.

H.E. Ahmed Hamid, Commissioner for Trade, Customs and Free Movement and Tourism of the ECOWAS Commission opened the Consultative Meeting with a statement delivered on his behalf by the ECOWAS Director of Trade, Dr. Gbenga Obideyi. Commissioner Hamid stated that the ECOWAS region believes in the importance of the CFTA, as approved by the AU Summit of Heads of State and Government in January 2012. 

He stressed on some of the useful lessons that can be learned from the ECOWAS regional integration process – involvement of multiple stakeholders and the fact that integration is a continued process as opposed to a one-off event. In the end, he proposed, for the consideration of Member States, the extension of the existing mandate given to ECOWAS for the negotiation of the WA – EU EPA (Economic Partnership Agreement) to that of the CFTA negotiations.

Representing H.E. Mrs. Fatima Haram Acyl, Commissioner for Trade and Industry of the African Union Commission, the Director of the Department of Trade and Industry, Mrs. Treasure Maphanga pointed out that by agreeing to negotiate a comprehensive and mutually beneficial free trade agreement, our Leaders signalled to the world that Africa is ready for business. 

Mrs. Maphanga indicated that simply reducing tariffs and removing other barriers to trade may not necessarily lead to increased intra-African trade. In this regards, she suggested: “We must do more in terms of developing the productive capacities of our economies, implement trade facilitation measures, develop our infrastructure, and ensure reliable energy supply and skills availability”. 

Before concluding, she urged ECOWAS Member States to respond to the call by the AU Commission for the designation of Lead CFTA Negotiators and their Alternates in line with the Roadmap for the CFTA negotiations.

The Representant of the Acting Permanent Secretary of the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr. Ben Iyeh, underscored that regional integration helps develop larger markets, foster competition and improve policy stance in many areas of development agenda. 

He informed the meeting that Nigeria has already settled the necessary national structures in order to be fully engaged in the upcoming CFTA negotiations.

The ECOWAS Regional Consultative meeting on the CFTA will be followed by the 5th Meeting of the Continental Task Force (CTF) on the CFTA from 5-7 November 2015.

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