I welcome all who are coming from beyond our shores to our picturesque, vibrant capital city of Accra, particularly the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, His Excellency Moussa Faki Mahamat. We are honoured, Sir, by your presence amongst us. I extend a hearty akwaaba, our word of welcome, to you and all others, and I hope you are all enjoying your stay, the pandemic notwithstanding, amongst a people famed for their hospitality.
When the African Union (AU) convened an Extraordinary Summit in Kigali, the capital of the Republic of Rwanda, on 21st March, 2018, to adopt and sign the legal instruments for the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), there were many who did not believe African countries were ready to meet the required minimum threshold of twenty-two (22) Member-State-ratifications needed for the AfCFTA to come into effect. On 30th May 2019, a year later, after the minimum threshold was met, with Ghana and Kenya being the first to deposit, on the same day, their instruments of ratification with the AU Commission, the operational phase of the AfCFTA was launched, as the Agreement had become effective.
A little over a month after this seminal event, we gathered in Niamey, capital of the Republic of Niger, on 7th July 2019, at the 12 th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU, where Ghana was selected by her peers to play host to the Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area.
Indeed, for a country generally acknowledged as the pioneer of modern pan-Africanism under the dynamic leadership of our first President, Kwame Nkrumah, a country whose people made great sacrifices to spearhead the struggle for the liberation of the African continent from colonialism, imperialism and the racist system of apartheid, this is the first time, in our sixty-three (63) years of nationhood and in the fifty-seven years of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the precursor to the AU, that we have the responsibility and privilege of hosting an important pan-African institution. So, today is an auspicious day for Ghana, and, on behalf of the Ghanaian people and their Government, I express our deep appreciation, once again, to the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU for its decision.
I thank also my fellow Ghanaians, the 1st President of Ghana’s 4th Republic, His Excellency Jerry John Rawlings, the 2nd President of the 4th Republic, His Excellency John Agyekum Kufuor, former First Lady, Her Excellency Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, the Minister for Trade and Industry, Alan Kyerematen, who brilliantly led Ghana’s efforts, and other officials of Government for the diverse roles they played in helping to promote Ghana’s successful bid.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, in Niamey, I assured that Ghana, as caretaker of the Secretariat, would put all the requisite facilities at its disposal, so that it could run as a world-class organisation. Indeed, as part of the hosting agreement, Ghana was requested by the Assembly to work with the AU Commission to ensure an expeditious and efficient process of establishing a Permanent Secretariat for the AfCFTA in Accra.
Ghana has fully discharged all her obligations and commitments agreed with the AU Commission, and we are, today, handing over a fully furnished and befitting office space, in a secured and easily accessible location within the business centre of Accra, as the Permanent Secretariat of the AfCFTA. We have provided also an appropriate, furnished residential accommodation as the official residence of the Secretary-General of the AfCFTA.
I have no doubt that the coming into being of the African Continental Free Trade Area is one of the most important decisions taken by the AU. When you consider the fact that trade between African countries remains low, currently standing at some 16% of our combined GDP, compared to other parts of the world, like the European Union’s 75%, it is obvious that these very low levels of intra-regional trade constitute one of the defining characteristics of our continuing poverty. They hinder our prospects of bringing prosperity to our peoples. A large part of the growth and prosperity that we seek on the continent will come from us trading more among ourselves.
We, in Ghana, believe that an increase in trade is the surest way to deepen regional integration in Africa. It will mean a rapid increase in the exchange of agricultural, industrial, financial, scientific, and technological products, which would significantly enhance our economic fortunes as a continent, create prosperity, and provide opportunities for employment for the broad masses of Africans, particularly the youth. The economic integration of Africa will lay a strong foundation for an ‘Africa Beyond Aid’. It is for this reason that I have continued in the footsteps of my predecessors in fighting for the cause of African unity.
An effective implementation of the AfCFTA will dispel the notion that the AU is not capable of executing its own decisions. Africa’s new sense of urgency and aspiration of true self-reliance will be amply demonstrated by today’s ceremony. In this regard, I appeal to all Member States, who are yet to ratify the AfCFTA Agreement, to take advantage of the postponement of the date for start of trading, and do so by December 2020, to enable us trade fully among ourselves, so we can harness the benefits of the AfCFTA together.
The pandemic has heightened the importance of the success of the AfCFTA. The disruption of global supply chains has reinforced the necessity for closer integration amongst us, so that we can boost our mutual self-sufficiency, strengthen our economies, and reduce our dependence on external sources. We are now the world’s largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organisation, and we must make it count. Covering a market of 1.2 billion people, with a combined GDP of $3 trillion, across the fifty-four (54) Member States of the AU that have signed up to the Agreement, it will provide the vehicle for us to trade among ourselves in a more modern and sophisticated manner; it will offer a huge opportunity to exploit the abundant wealth and resources of our great continent for the benefit of all our people; and it will give us protection in how to deal with other trading blocks.
So, I urge Member States to put in an extra effort to conclude all outstanding implementation issues, for their adoption by the AU Assembly in the next Extraordinary Summit scheduled for December 2020, to pave way for the smooth commencement of trading from 1st January, 2021.
As we welcome the newly elected first Secretary-General of the Secretariat, Mr. Wamkele Keabetswe Mene, and his family to Ghana, I know he is fully aware of the enormous task ahead of him and his colleagues, who will be managing the Secretariat. Secretary-General, a heartfelt akwaaba to you and your family. Ghanaians have always had a sense of special solidarity with South Africans, so I know you will be at home here. The AfCFTA Framework agreement provides for a functionally autonomous, independent institution, within the AU system. In upholding this and other provisions of the Agreement, the Secretary-General must work towards building a strong, efficient and effective Secretariat, with the capacity to implement the various trade rules, in line with the text of the Agreement, to help build credibility, and reduce trade policy uncertainty in the continent. The world is watching to see whether the Secretariat will, indeed, provide the springboard for Africa’s economic integration and rapid growth, and I am confident that, under your tenure, it will. Mr. Secretary-General, be rest assured of the firm support of the Government of Ghana for your work and activities.
Before I conclude, let me commend highly the President of the Republic of Niger, His Excellency Mahamadou Issoufou, current Chair of ECOWAS, for the stellar work he has done in championing the African Continental Free Trade initiative. No one has done more to ensure the coming into force of the AfCFTA than President Issoufou, and our posterity will reward his name accordingly. To His Excellency Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the AU Commission, Deputy Chairperson, Ambassador Kwesi Quartey, the Commissioners and the entire staff of the AU Commission, I say well done for your hard work, in supporting the processes leading to this historic day. I end by congratulating and saluting my good friend, His Excellency Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa, President of the Republic of South Africa, and current Chair of the Authority of the Assembly of the AU, for the benign, progressive guidance and supervision he has offered to make today possible.
Accordingly, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I have the greatest pleasure formally to commission and hand over the Office of the AfCFTA Secretariat to the African Union Commission.
May God bless Mother Africa, and us all, and make her great and strong.
I thank you for your attention.