Interview Professor Daniel Mukoko Samba “It is necessary to continue to mobilize all member states of the African Union”
The AU Chairperson speaks : interview with Professor Daniel Mukoko Samba in charge of AfCFTA issues in DR Congo.
President Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi pledged at the 34th African Union Summit that one of his priorities as current AU Chairperson would be to accelerate the operationalization of the AfCFTA. According to which agenda and which priorities?
The AfCFTA is one of the flagship projects of the AU’s Agenda 2063 identified to accelerate Africa’s economic growth and development. Thus, President Tshisekedi’s agenda is indeed the one adopted on December 5, 2020, during the 13th Extraordinary Session of the AU Assembly dedicated to the implementation of the AfCFTA. In accordance with the schedule of activities agreed at this extraordinary summit, the DRC Presidency will focus, first and foremost, on mobilizing all states for the universal signature and ratification of the AfCFTA Agreement.
The situation today indicates that out of the 55 AU countries: 36 countries have ratified the AfCFTA Agreement and deposited the instruments of ratification (are therefore States Parties); 1 country (Algeria) has already ratified, but the instruments have not been deposited; 17 countries have signed and not yet ratified the AfCFTA Agreement (including the DRC); 1 country (Eritrea) has not yet acceded to the Agreement. It is therefore necessary to continue to mobilize all African Union member states that have not done so to sign and ratify the AfCFTA Agreement.
Second, finalize the outstanding negotiations on rules of origin. Today, the coverage of agreed rules of origin is estimated at about 82% of the total tariff lines on the basis of which trade takes place in the AfCFTA market. There is a need to resolve outstanding issues on rules of origin by June 2021, in line with the decisions taken by the Heads of State Conference. Similarly, the outstanding negotiations on the schedules of tariff concessions should be finalized. The planned modalities for trade in goods under the AfCFTA provide for the liberalization of all trade by first eliminating tariffs on 90% of tariff lines over a specified period of time (of at least 10 years), and later on tariffs on 7% of tariff lines of products deemed sensitive to the states. The AfCFTA Secretariat has received 75% of the tariff concessions submitted by member states. It is essential to get all member states and/or customs unions to submit lists of tariff concessions. Outstanding negotiations on trade in services need also to be finalized. The Committee on Trade in Services established by the Protocol on Trade in Services has started its work for the progressive liberalization of services sectors. Thirty-four (34) countries have submitted their initial offers on trade in services, as of January 31, 2021. Therefore, it is imperative to finalize these ongoing negotiations on trade in services by June 2021.
What are the priorities of this agenda?
In view of this agenda, all the planned activities are given priority. As a reminder, at the 13th Extraordinary Session of December 5, 2020, the Conference of Heads of State and Government had decided to start negotiating under the AfCFTA regime on January 1, 2021, on the basis of legally applicable and reciprocal tariff schedules and concessions, with agreed rules of origin and customs documentation. These include: final Schedules of Tariff Concessions submitted by state parties; final Schedules of Tariff Concessions submitted by customs unions whose members have all ratified the AfCFTA Agreement or by members of customs unions that have ratified the AfCFTA Agreement and can legally implement the Schedule of Tariff Concessions on a case-by-case basis; agreed rules of origin; and the customs documentation required for preferential trade under the AfCFTA Agreement.
What are the challenges slowing down the development of the process and how can they be overcome?
The challenges slowing down the AfCFTA process relate to the implementation of the AfCFTA which presents many challenges for African countries. These are political, legal, infrastructural, financial and security challenges.
Overcoming them requires, above all, political will. The signing and ratification of the AfCFTA Agreement is not enough to demonstrate the real willingness of member states to take the concrete actions required to materialize the AfCFTA. This willingness must be demonstrated in particular in the support that states must provide to businesses in the various countries.
There are also legal challenges. As with the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, there can be no international trade that does not take into account the intellectual property rights of the goods and services traded. However, the AfCFTA has not addressed the issue of IPR management.
“Overcoming challenges requires, above all, political will. The signing and ratification of the AfCFTA Agreement is not enough to demonstrate the real willingness of member states to take the concrete actions required to materialize the AfCFTA”
It is worth noting that the enforcement of intellectual property rights makes trade more fluid. However, the disparity of intellectual property rights management systems is an obstacle to fluid trade between African countries. Moreover, several Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in Africa have not yet reached a satisfactory level of integration to facilitate the free movement of goods and people.
In terms of infrastructure, too. The lack of communication channels between the countries of the continent is a major obstacle to the continental free trade area. In Africa, moving from one country to another is often not easy. Thus, in the cost structure, the share of transport costs is very high. However, some RECs have already made progress in this area. But much remains to be done in terms of roads, railroads and air connections. These communication infrastructures are essential for increasing the exchange of goods and services between African countries.
In addition, electronic communications and access to the Internet and telephone, which are important tools for long-distance transactions, are still prohibitively expensive in some countries. In addition, the quality of the Internet connection is also problematic, as is the production and distribution of electrical power.
There are also financial challenges. The budgets of several states depend heavily on customs revenues, including export duties on raw materials. With the AfCFTA, the budgetary revenues of countries whose economies are highly dependent on this activity will be reduced because of the lowering of tariffs. This would not have been a problem if the local production sector was well structured in most countries of the continent. With the informal sector estimated to account for more than half of GDP in some countries, tax revenues will not increase overnight.
Mechanisms are on the agenda to address the challenges of the AfCFTA. President Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi intends to use the direct and personal links between the Heads of State and Government and inclusive negotiations with the various partners to achieve the universal signature and ratification of the Agreement, the development and implementation of national strategies, the implementation of a coordination mechanism between the Regional Economic Communities, the AU Commission and the AfCFTA Secretariat, capacity building of customs administrations, as well as the implementation of the AfCFTA adjustment facility.
Aware of the benefits and opportunities of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) for states, President Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi believes that dialogue at the continental and national levels must be inclusive. All stakeholders in the business circles and civil society
must be involved in order to find solutions to the challenges faced by the States in the negotiation for a better progress in the implementation of the AfCFTA (the private sector, civil society, parliamentarians).
Indeed, the process requires the commitment of all, States, institutions, private sector… How to mobilize them?
The successful implementation of the AfCFTA requires the mobilization of everyone. For this reason, each member state is required to establish and operate a national AfCFTA committee; develop and implement a national strategy for the implementation of the AfCFTA that defines the media and materials for outreach and sensitization of public, private and civil society actors.
In addition, capacity building on rules of origin (which define the economic nationality of goods) and commercial documents used in the AfCFTA, and sensitization of the national business community on trade and investment opportunities in the AfCFTA market are required. In addition, the involvement of several international organizations and bilateral cooperation is necessary.
« With my vision of an African Union at the service of the African people, I propose to take our organization, with the help of all of you, out of the conference rooms, the hard drives of our computers and the well-crafted files of our secretariats. I intend to take it to the schoolyards, to the refugee camps, to the market places of our cities and the fields of our villages,” President Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi
Raising African populations’ awareness of challenges of AfCFTA and more broadly of African integration …
Trade plays a major role in the economic empowerment of women. In addition, on the continent, we find a large majority of women and youth involved in petty trade and cross-border trade. There are many actors in the commercial sector who travel around the world to supply the markets of different countries. They too are directly affected by the AfCFTA and must be active agents in the process. This is why it is important that, as part of the AfCFTA implementation strategy, awareness campaigns involving various associations be organized in each member state. In this perspective, President Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi said during his speech on February 6, 2021 at the AU headquarters: “With my vision of an African Union at the service of the African people, I intend to take our organization, with the help of all of you, out of the conference rooms, the hard drives of our computers and the well-crafted files of our secretariats. I intend to take it to the schoolyards, to the refugee camps, to the market places of our cities and the fields of our villages. “
* Professor Daniel Mukoko Samba is an economist and politician from Kinshasa. A former minister, he is in charge of the issue of the African Continental Free Trade Area in DR Congo.
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