Roundtable on African Regional & Global Trade with H.E. Wamkele Mene, AfCFTA Secretariat

On Monday, September 18, 2023, Corporate Council on Africa kicked off a busy week of events in New York on the sidelines of the 78th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) with a roundtable titled “African Regional and Global Trade.”  H.E. Wamkele Mene, the Secretary General of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat, updated attendees on the current status of implementing this game-changing trade agreement.  He reported that African countries are making good progress in finalizing the remaining negotiations on rules of origin that will allow full implementation of duty-free trade on thousands of goods to proceed once countries complete the process of adopting AfCFTA’s procedures and tariff provisions into their domestic regulations.  He recognized both the importance of, and challenges involved in getting the details right to administer so many changes.  He noted that the Guided Trade Initiative launched in October 2022 is helping walk countries through the process of trading with each other for the first time.  This initiative is beginning to show results, and will grow from the initial 8 countries to 31 in 2023, illustrating the growing interest of countries to get trade moving between countries.   

 

During the session, the Secretary General also updated attendees on important tools to support trade, including progress in implementing the Pan-African Payment and Settlement Systems (PAPSS), which seeks to obviate the need for multiple currency conversions for companies to pay each other.  Current arrangements cost companies a staggering USD 5 Billion annually in  transaction fees. The Secretary General also underscored the importance of African countries working with African Development Financial Institutions (DFIs) to address Africa’s infrastructure deficit and drive investments. The role of the private sector is also crucial in the seamless implementation of the AfCFTA as without its support in supporting investment opportunities and transparency to work with African governments, trade cannot move forward at the pace that the AfCFTA wishes to operate.

 

The roundtable concluded with participants engaging in a Q&A delving into topics such as AGOA renewal and the political landscape on the continent. The Secretary General expressed his hope that AGOA would be renewed, and noted that political instability often impacts Small and Medium Enterprises most.  He concluded with a strong pitch for companies to seize investment opportunities and identify projects and partners.