The Host Country Agreement executed between government of Ghana and the African Union Commission on February 10, for the establishment of the Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in Accra, Ghana pursuant to Article 75(2) of the 1992 Constitution was laid in Parliament by the Foreign Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey on June 3, 2020.
The Speaker referred the Agreement to the Committee on Foreign and Affairs for consideration and report in accordance with Order 140(4) and 183 of the Standing Orders of the House.
The Committee met on Wednesday, July 15, 2020, and deliberated on the Agreement. In attendance was the Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Habibu Tijani and Officers of the Ministry.
The Committee also paid a working visit to the Secretariat and the official residence of the Secretary-General to ascertain the state of preparedness for the operationalisation of the Secretariat. The Committee was taken through a tour of the two facilities by the Minister for Trade and Industry, Alan Kyeremanteng who briefed the Committee on steps taken to operationalise the Secretariat.
The Committee is grateful to the Hon. Minister for Trade and Industry and the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration and their respective Teams for their support and assistance in consideration of the Agreement.
2.0 REFERENCE DOCUMENTS
The following documents guided the Committee during its deliberations and in preparing this report:
- The 1992 Constitution
- The Standing Orders of Parliament
- General Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the Organization of African Unity (OAU)
The Agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area was adopted by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union at its 10th Extra-ordinary Session on 21st March 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda.
At the 12th Extra-ordinary Session held on 7th July 2019 in Niamey, Niger and per its decision Ext/Assembly/A.U./Dec.2 (XII) of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government, wherein the Assembly decided that the Republic of Ghana shall host the AfCFTA Secretariat and further requested the Commission, in collaboration with the Republic of Ghana, to finalise the host country agreement following the Executive Council Decision Ex. CL/195(VI) Rev. I of July 2005 on hosting Organs of the African Union.
4.0 KEY PROVISIONS OF THE AGREEMENT
Key provisions of the Agreement include
- A definition section which sets forth certain terms and expressions and their meaning as pertains to the Agreement;
- The Host Country shall provide at its own expense a secure, equipped and furnished permanent premises for the Secretariat;
- The Secretariat shall have a legal personality with the capacity to enter into a contract and acquire and dispose of movable and immovable property needed for its operations in accordance with the laws of Ghana;
- The Government shall provide a secured, equipped and furnished official residence for the Head of the Secretariat;
- The Government shall guarantee the inviolability of the premises of the Secretariat and the Secretariat shall be accorded diplomatic status;
- Officials of the Secretariat and State Parties to the AfCFTA Agreement shall enjoy within the Host Country, privileges and immunities as established by the General Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the Organization of African Unity (OAU);
- Representatives of AU. Member States participating in the work of the Secretariat and Representatives of non-African States accredited to the Secretariat shall be entitled to the same privileges and immunities as accorded to diplomatic envoys of comparable rank under international law;
- All persons enjoying privileges and immunities accorded by the Host Country are to comply with the laws and regulations of the Republic of Ghana;
- The Secretariat shall freely purchase any currencies through authorised channels and hold and dispose of them, transfer its funds to or from the Host Country, and operate accounts in any currency;
- The Secretariat is exempt from any direct or indirect taxes except for charges and taxes on public utility services including compulsory contributions to any social security scheme of the host country;
- General Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations shall be applicable to the Secretariat, its headquarters, properties, funds, assets., premises and facilities, Officials of the Secretariat, State Parties to the AfCFTA Agreement and persons performing missions for the Secretariat;
- All official business between the Government and the Secretariat shall be conducted through the Ministry responsible for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration;
- Any dispute arising out of or in connection with the Agreement, including any question regarding its validity or termination shall be resolved amicably through diplomatic channels. The Agreement further provides that disputes not resolved amicably within ninety (90) days of instituting negotiations for the amicable resolution or such other time as the Parties may mutually agree shall be referred to or finally resolved by arbitration in accordance with the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules;
- The Agreement may be amended by mutual consent at any time at the request of either Party; and
- The Parties shall keep each other informed of all relevant matters pertaining to the implementation of the Agreement and shall hold consultations as appropriate and in any case, every three (3) years in order to evaluate the progress in the implementation of the Agreement and identify areas for review.
5.1 Inter-Ministry Consultation
The Committee was informed that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration worked closely with the Ministry of Trade and Industry and other stakeholders in the conclusion of the Host Country Agreement. Stakeholder consultations were organised to seek inputs before finalising the Agreement with the African Union Commission. A working group was also constituted to review the Agreement together with officials of the African Union Commission. The Committee was assured that the Ministry would continue to consult with all stakeholders towards the implementation of the Agreement.
5.2 Appointment of Secretary-General and other Staff
The Committee was informed that the AfCFTA Secretary-General had been appointed by AU Heads of State and Governments at the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly. In addition, four Directors and essential staff are currently being recruited. The Committee was informed that other essential staff for the Secretariat would be seconded by the AU Commission and the Member States.
5.3 Employment Opportunities for Ghanaians
The Committee observed that hosting the Secretariat in Ghana will offer job opportunities for Ghanaians. The Committee was informed that apart from the AU Commission, Member states and regional community groups and associations that are required to second essential and technical staff to work with the Secretariat, majority of the job offerings at the Secretariat, particularly in the general staff category would be available to qualified persons. Although the Ministry could not provide the specific percentage of Ghanaians that would be employed at the Secretariat, the Committee was assured that the Secretariat would be guided in its recruitment policy to hire the majority of Ghanaians particularly in the general staff category as the practice pertaining in countries hosting AU Organs.
The Committee is of the view that given the contribution of Ghana in hosting the Headquarters of the AfCFTA, a special dispensation should be given to Ghanaians in the recruitment of the staff of the Secretariat. The Committee accordingly urges the Ministry to pursue and persuade the Secretariat to reserve for Ghanaians a specified quota of its staff.
5.4 Commencement of Operation
The Committee was informed that the commencement date of the operation of the Secretariat had been rescheduled from 1st July 2020 to 1st January 2021. The change in the commencement date was as a result of the closure of borders in many African countries, including Ghana, because of the outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) late last year. The situation made it impossible for the movement of the Secretary-General and the support staff who are leading the processes towards the commencement and full operationalisation of the Secretariat.
The Committee was informed that trading is expected to commence on 1st January 2020.
In pursuit of the new commencement date, an AU Summit is scheduled for December 2020 to consider and approve the protocols for trading including Rules of Origin and Rules on Market Access which are to be determined first by the Council of Ministers.
In line with the programme towards the commencement of trading in January 2021, the Government has scheduled to officially handover the Headquarters of the AfCFTA Secretariat and the official residence of the Secretary-General to the AU by August 2020. It is therefore imperative that the Host Country Agreement is approved by the House to facilitate the handing over process.
5.5 Financial Impact
The Committee observed that there are substantial financial obligation and responsibilities for the Government of Ghana in hosting the AfCFTA Secretariat. The Committee noted that in Article 3 of the Agreement, Ghana is required to provide “secured, equipped and furnished permanent premises at its expense for the Secretariat as its Headquarters in Accra”. Article 5 further requires the Host Country to provide, among other things, “secured, equipped and furnished official residence of the Head of the Secretariat”. Article 6 further enjoins Ghana to provide a “settling-in cash grant of 10 million United States Dollars for the AfCTA Secretariat to commence operations”.
As to whether as Host Country Ghana has provided the offices and the official residence of the Head of the Secretariat, the Ministry informed the Committee that all facilities including offices for the Secretariat and the residence for the Head of the Secretariat had been provided. The Committee was informed that Ghana had offered the Africa Trade House situated at Ambassadorial Enclave, Liberia Road, Accra, as premises for the Secretariat. Further, the residence of the Head of the Secretariat had been secured and designated for that purpose. The Committee undertook a verification visit to the facilities designated as the Secretariat and the residence of the Secretary-General and is happy to report that works on both properties have been completed and are ready for use by the Secretariat.
Regarding the settling-in cash grant of US$10 Million for the Secretariat to commence its operations, the Committee was informed that the amount was meant to be paid upfront to the AU Commission but was to be released as and when a request was made for the preparatory works and programme of the Secretariat. Accordingly, monies have been advanced for purposes of the re-configuration and furnishing of the Headquarters, the acquisition and furnishing of the official residence of the Secretary-General, acquisition of vehicles, recruitment of the Secretary-General and other principal officers, among other expenditures. The Committee was informed that the Ministry was currently conducting a reconciliation of accounts with officials of the AU Commission on funds disbursed to date and would furnish the Committee once the process is complete. The Ministry further assured the Committee of the commitment of the Government to respect its obligation in respect to the settlement grant.
In respect to the provision of security for the premises of the Secretariat and the residence of the Head of Secretariat, the Committee was made aware that adequate arrangements had been made with the Ministry of the Interior and the Ghana Police Service to the effect. The Ministry informed the Committee that the Security Agencies responsible for diplomatic protection had been notified and that they had given the assurance of the provision of adequate security and protection for the premises, the residence and officials of the Secretariat.
6.0 CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION
The establishment of the Secretariat in Ghana would enhance the country’s leverage and influence on the African continent and the world at large. It would also facilitate the effective execution of the mandate of the AfCFTA, which seeks to deepen the economic integration of the African continent by creating a single continental market with free movement of businesses, people and investments. The projected benefits of the Agreement are significant, and the Secretariat would serve as the framework for the implementation of the decisions of the Member States of the African Union.
The Committee is satisfied that Ghana’s obligations under the Agreement are in line with Host Country Agreements in other African countries hosting AU Organs and therefore recommends to Parliament to approve the Agreement by Resolution in accordance with Article 75(2) of the Constitution.
Chairman, Committee on Foreign Affairs
Clerk, Committee on Foreign Affairs
July 20, 2020
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