The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in collaboration with the Organised Private Sector, held a virtual regional sensitisation workshop on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) for the Private Sector on Wednesday, September 2, 2020.The ECOWAS Commission said in a statement on Thursday in Abuja that the overall objective of the AfCFTA was to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, paving the way for accelerating the establishment of the Continental Customs Union.
Speaking at the opening of the workshop on behalf of the President of the ECOWAS Commission Mr. Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Trade, Customs and Free Movement, Mr. Tei Konzi, noted that although the AfCFTA negotiations are Member States-driven, ECOWAS continues to coordinate the position and approaches of the Member States to ensure the Agreement builds on the ECOWAS interest and takes the regional integration process forward.
According to Commissioner Konzi, the objective of the Workshop is to “improve the understanding of the AfCFTA of the Organised Private Sector in the West African region in order to enable them to better contribute to the negotiations and implementation of the Agreement.”
In his speech, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Industry and Private Sector Promotion and co-host of the workshop, Mr. Mamadou Traore, noted that the private sector is a key stakeholder and beneficiary of the AfCFTA.
Traore noted that to achieve the success and implementation of the AfCFTA, Member States/Regional Economic Communities (RECs) must actively engage with the private sector and allow members of the sector to share their reflections and on-ground experiences.
The President of the Federation of West Africa Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FEWACCI), Hajia Saratu Aliyu, observed that the private sector actors are the actual traders and investors responsible for moving goods and services across borders and pledged their commitment to supporting the regional AfCFTA negotiation and implementation mechanisms.
Her counterpart with the Federation of West Africa Employers Association (FOPAO), Mr. Jean-Marie Ackah, disclosed the association’s readiness to engage ECOWAS and the Member States in the negotiation and implementation of the AfCFTA Agreement.
Earlier, Acting Director of Trade, ECOWAS Commission Mr. Kolawole Sofola, gave an overview of the AfCFTA Agreement and stated that the first phase of the agreement is on trade in goods and trade in services as well as a mechanism for dispute settlement, while the second phase comprises competition policy, investment and intellectual property rights while the third phase focuses on E-Commerce.
The African Union Protocol on Free Movement of People complements the AfCFTA by providing for visa-free travel, the right of residency and the right of business or professional establishment for citizens between signatory countries.
Among others, the workshop featured presentations on the role of Organised Private Sector in the AfCFTA negotiation and implementation processes.
Bringing the virtual regional meeting to a close after fielding questions resulting from the deliberations and making necessary clarifications, including the need for the Organised Private Sector to play an active role in the AfCFTA negotiation and implementation processes, Commissioners Konzi and Traore expressed satisfaction with the contributions made and pledged the commitment of the ECOWAS Commission to a continuous consultation and participatory approach to future negotiations and implementation.
The Agreement establishing the AfCFTA was signed at the 10th Extraordinary Summit of the African Union (AU) Assembly in Kigali – Rwanda on the 21st of March, 2018.
The AfCFTA will bring together 55 African countries with a combined population of 1.2 billion people and a combined GDP of more than $3.4 trillion.