Amina Mohammed, the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, has pledged the UN’s full support to the African Union (AU) as nations begin to earnestly operationalise the landmark African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
According to a statement issued by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), she made the pledge on Sunday in Niamey, Niger, at the 12th extraordinary session of the African Union on the AfCFTA.
Ms Mohammed said the UN was ready to work in partnership with African countries as they move to implement the historic and game-changing AfCFTA.
“We are already working with 16 African governments to develop national strategies to maximise the opportunities created by this agreement and we will increase this number from next year.
“We are committed to working with African institutions to mobilise the resources that will be required for full implementation of the AfCFTA.
“In the first instance, the African Regional Integration Trust Fund will support countries to mobilise resources to finance regional integration”, she said.
The Deputy Secretary-General also said that the UN would work with the AU to coordinate and leverage complementary funding sources from the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) Africa 50 Fund to the AU’s Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), and China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
She added that the ECA was supporting the process of mainstreaming gender and youth employment initiatives into national strategies.
“This will help to ensure that trade policy is both gender-sensitive and responds to demographic realities, thereby contributing more fully to sustainable development.
“Trade can contribute to either widening or closing inclusion and gender gaps, depending on how the process is managed.
“So we are also working with governments to counterbalance the distributional and gender-differentiated effects of trade liberalisation.”
According to Ms Mohammed, it is essential to act now, not only to ensure that women benefit from the AfCFTA but also the African youth, given the demographic challenges facing the continent.
She told the African leaders gathered for the landmark occasion to officially launch the AfCFTA as entry into force of the accord was a momentous step.
“As you have recognised, it is a first step. Realizing its full potential will require changes and improvements in several important areas, including infrastructure development, capacity to export and non-tariff barriers.
“I urge you to move decisively and quickly during the transitional period up to July 1, 2020, to reap the rewards of this historic agreement.”
She added that Africans should take particular pride in reaching the agreement at a time of growing protectionism and rising trade tensions that threaten economic stability and progress around the world.
Ms Mohammed said that from free trade to climate change and migration, African countries and regional organisations were developing progressive policies that demonstrate global responsibility and forge a new path for multilateralism and sustainability.
“The entire UN system will continue to support African countries as you accelerate the continent’s development.
“Together, we will realise our shared vision of Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals, leaving no one behind,” she added.
The world’s largest free trade area, encompassing 54 countries and 1.2 billion people the AfCFTA is expected to bring the promise of trade-led economic growth closer to reality for Africa’s entrepreneurs, industrialists, investors, innovators and service suppliers.
“Perhaps most important of all, the AfCFTA demonstrates the common will of African countries to work together to achieve the vision of the AU’s Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want.”
According to her, it is a tool to unleash African innovation, drive growth, transform African economies and contribute to a prosperous, stable and peaceful African continent, as foreseen in both Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), reports that President Muhammadu Buhari signed the historic agreement during the opening session of the summit.
Benin Republic also signed the agreement, making it 54 out of the 55 African countries to sign on, leaving Eritrea as the only one yet to sign on.