South Africa's President, Cyril Ramaphosa is Chairperson of the African Union

The African Union (AU) Chairperson, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, has reiterated the Union’s commitment to the successful implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), as a practical contribution to economic development of Africa.

“We welcome the progress achieved thus far in the implementation of the Niamey Decision of July 2019, but we also acknowledge the challenges that still exist in the negotiations at the moment, in particular around the issue of Rules of Origin and Trade offers, as well as trade in services,” President Ramaphosa said on Monday in a speech read on his behalf at the official commissioning and handing over of the AfCFTA Secretariat Building to the African Union Commission (AUC) in Accra.

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo officially commissioned and handed over the AfCFTA Secretariat Building to Mr Moussa Faki, AUC Chairperson.

“We are confident that, through your leadership and the determination of the AU Member States, all bracketed issues should be resolved,” President Ramaphosa said.

On behalf of the African Union and the entire Continent, President Ramaphosa expressed their profound gratitude to the Government and people of Ghana for generously offering the building and residences, which house the AfCFTA.

“This day is indeed a milestone and a strong affirmation of the vision of an integrated Africa, which was envisioned by the founding fathers of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), including Kwame Nkrumah, 57 years ago,” he said.

“It is a fitting tribute that the AfCFTA Headquarters are being housed in Ghana.”

He reassured Mr Wamkele Mene, first Secretary-General, AfCFTA, of his unwavering support, as he execute his responsibilities of promoting the successful implementation of the AfCFTA, as entrusted to you by the Continent.

“Mr Mene, you are facing enormous challenges ahead, but they are not insurmountable. When successfully implemented, the AfCFTA will be a huge milestone towards the realization of Agenda 2063, the Africa We Want,” he said.

“I wish you, Mr Mene all the best in your new role and to assure you of the continent’s confidence in your stewardship”.

With regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, President Ramaphosa noted that the AU remained concerned about the impact of the global pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus on the Continent, which resulted in thousands of fatalities.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic arrived at a moment when prospects for many African countries were promising; adding that the beginning of 2020, Africa was on track to continue its economic expansion, with growth projected to rise from 2.9 per cent in 2019 to 3.2 per cent in 2020, and 3.5 per cent in 2021.

He said it was also equally important to state that important gains were being registered in poverty reduction and health indicators.

“We are witnessing unprecedented embracing of technology and innovation across the continent, with young Africans acting as early adopters of new platforms, such as mobile money.”

He said progress had also been made with respect to political unity and economic integration; declaring that the entry into force of the AfCFTA in May 2019 promised to boost intra-African trade by as much as 25 per cent by 2040.

He said peace and security on the African continent was a prerequisite to sustainable economic development; stating that “accordingly we must continue our efforts to silence the guns so as to achieve the African we want”.

“We have decided to also prioritize infrastructure development to ensure seamless transportation of goods and services as we increase trade amongst ourselves”.  

President Ramophosa said furthermore, it was important to note that, Africa enjoyed some of the highest global returns on foreign direct investment.

He said several inclusive elections, increasingly the norm for a majority of African countries, are due to be held in 2020.

He intimated that at the same time, as with other regions of the world, Africa faced important challenges.

He said it was not on track to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063.

“Our progress is undermined by weak governance, environmental degradation, lack of economic diversity, and humanitarian and conflict situations”.

He said the pandemic necessitated the postponement of the July 2020 start date of trade under the AfCFTA, which delayed the promise of opportunities for new exports, jobs, investments in infrastructure and financing for Africa’s development.