Roundup: AfCFTA should be instrument for Africa's development, not just trading accord: AfCFTA Secretariat chief

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ADDIS ABABA, Jan. 1 (Xinhua) -- The Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement should not just be a trade agreement, it should actually be an instrument for Africa's development, Secretary-General of the AfCFTA Secretariat, Wamkele Mene, said on Friday.

"Truly today is a historic day, a day in which we start officially trading under the preferences of the African continental free trade area," Mene said on Friday during an online event that marked the start of trading under the free trade pact.

Mene also stressed that the start of trading under the AfCFTA "takes Africa a step closer to a vision of an integrated continent, a vision of an integrated market on the African continent."

According to him, if the African continent implements the agreement effectively, "we have the opportunity to lift out of poverty one hundred million Africans; and the majority of this hundred million Africans that will be lifted out of poverty, are women in trade," he said.

"It will be the opportunity to close the gender income gap, and the opportunity for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to access new markets," he said.

He also said that the AfCFTA Secretariat is working very closely with its technical partners to develop digital technology platforms that will enable connectivity of SMEs, and enable connectivity of young Africans in trade.

"This Agreement does not benefit only the big corporations on the African continent, but it should always be inclusive of young Africans, women, and African SMEs," he said.

"Today, as Africans, we are witnessing the beginning of a new chapter in terms of trade and investment relations of the African continent," he added.

The AfCFTA, which was launched in March 2018 in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, has so far garnered 54 AU member signatories, offering new hope and continental exhilaration in terms of boosting intra-African trade, and eventually facilitating Africa's development and industrialization. Eritrea is the only non-signatory country.

The continental free trade deal has been ratified by 34 African countries.

According to Mene, the growing list of countries that have ratified the free trade deal is a strong signal that Africa is ready to start trading today on the basis of new rules and preferences that will ensure that the African market is integrated.

"We have to take, as Africans, active steps to overcome the smallness of our respective national economies. We have to take active steps to overcome the lack of economies of scale. We have to take active steps to make sure that we place Africa on the path of industrial development so that by the year 2035, we're able to double intra-Africa trade with value-added goods," he added.

Noting that COVID-19 has demonstrated that Africa is overly reliant on the import of primary goods and global supply chains, he said when these global chains are disrupted, Africa suffers.

"So we have to take active steps to make sure this industrial development is accelerated and this AfCFTA and the launch of trading today are the first steps we take into that direction," he stressed. Enditem

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