Kudakwashe Mugari in NIAMEY, Niger
PRESIDENT Mnangagwa arrived here yesterday to join other Heads of State and Government for the African Union Extraordinary Summit that will see the launch of a single continental trade bloc.
He was welcomed at the Diori hamani international Airport by Niger’s Prime Minister Brigi Rafini.
The summit is running under the theme “Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to forced displacement in Africa.”
Niger is hosting the African Summit for the first time.
The summit began with the 35th Ordinary Session of the Executive Council and today Heads of State and Government will attend the 12th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTFA).
Speaking before the President’s departure, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Dr Sibusiso Moyo said the trade pact — the largest since the formation of the World Trade Organisation in 2001 — would unlock a US$4 trillion market.
“The African Union has achieved three major milestones so far out of its major objectives.
“Firstly, there was an agreement on free air movement within the continent. Then the second was free movement of people agreement and the final was the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement.
“All these agreements were signed in Kigali last year, particularly the AfCFTA, which was to only come into fruition after 22-member countries had signed the agreement and launched the instruments of ratification with the AU,” said Dr Moyo.
So far, 23 countries, including Zimbabwe, have signed.
The country has also ratified the trade pact.
Dr Moyo said the historic agreement will be launched in Niger because the West African country was one of the leading drivers of the AfCFTA.
“Our President will join other colleagues to be one of the founding members of the AfCFTA.
“This means that it is now going to be operationalised and as a nation, we must be ready to participate in the US$4 trillion market of the African continent.”
The AfCFTA, Minister Moyo said, will massively boost intra-continental trade, from which Zimbabwe is expected to benefit.
“What this means is that our industry must now participate, must now generate resources to export to the African continent. We have a special provision to say we need to start at about 85 percent (capacity), whilst other countries are starting at 90 percent because we have been under sanctions.
“I would like to implore our industry and other exporters that this is the time to fully grapple with industrialisation and capture the African market.
“It provides a market for the goods and services for the people of Zimbabwe, which means more foreign currency.”
The landmark AfCFTA, which dovetails with President Mnangagwa’s vision of establishing an upper middle-income economy, was agreed in last year in Kigali, Rwanda.
Zimbabwe is part of more than 50 African countries that deposited their instruments of ratification for the creation of the AfCFTA.
In an interview last week on the importance of the summit, Deputy Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet (Presidential Communications) Mr George Charamba said Zimbabwe, as a founding member, will join other African countries in celebrating the birth of a regional free trade area.
“What we are doing is to celebrate the coming into force of the continental free trade area. There is a benchmark number of countries which have ratified the treaty for it to come into force,” said Mr Charamba.
He said Zimbabwe could leverage on the pact to reinvent itself as a regional logistics and trade hub.
The continent is trying to create infrastructure that allows countries to have free movement of goods in Africa without any limitations as well as free movement of people without visa required in line with the AU’s Agenda 2063.
The 18th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January 2012, adopted a decision to establish a Continental Free Trade Area by an indicative date of 2017.
This deadline was, however, not met.
The summit also endorsed the Action Plan on Boosting Intra-Africa Trade (BIAT), which identifies seven priority action clusters, which are trade policy, trade facilitation, productive capacity, trade-related infrastructure, trade finance, trade information, and factor-market integration.
African leaders subsequently held an Extraordinary Summit on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) from March 17-21 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda, during which the agreement establishing the AfCFTA was presented for signature, along with the Kigali Declaration and the Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community relating to the Free Movement of Persons, Right to Residence and Right to Establishment.
In total, 44 out of the 55 AU member states signed the consolidated text of the AfCFTA Agreement, 47 signed the Kigali Declaration and 30 signed the Protocol on Free Movement.
By the end of March this year, only three countries – Benin, Eritrea and Nigeria – have yet to sign the consolidated text of the AfCFTA.
The legally scrubbed documents were signed on 16 May 2018.
The AfCFTA will bring together all 55 member states of the African Union covering a market of more than 1,2 billion people, including a growing middle class.
The main objectives of the AfCFTA are to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, and thus pave the way for accelerating the establishment of the Customs Union.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa was seen off at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport by Vice-President Kembo Mohadi, and Ministers Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri (Defence and War Veterans), Owen Ncube (State Security), Oliver Chidawu (Harare Metropolitan Province), senior Government officials and service chiefs.
VP Kembo Mohadi is the Acting President.