Addis Ababa, Ethiopia | XINHUA | As the operationalization of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is expected to take place on Jan. 1st, 2021, the African Union (AU) says it keeps AfCFTA in track with digital technology in the wake of COVID-19.
For the AfCFTA operationalization timeline to be met, and the decision of African leaders on the fast-tracking of processes leading to the commencement of trading to be implemented, outstanding AfCFTA negotiations must move online too, said a statement from the 55-member pan-African bloc on Tuesday.
The official hand over and commissioning of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat Building was held on Monday in Ghana’s capital Accra.
At the AU summit in February 2020 here in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, Wamkele Mene, from South Africa, was selected as the first Secretary General of AfCFTA and was sworn-in on March 19, 2020, for a four-year mandate.
Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, the AU Commission, like most intergovernmental organizations around the world, has shifted most of its activities online, said the AU in its statement.
AU member states have outlined a number of concerns regarding the use of virtual systems, especially regarding infrastructure reliability, security and confidentiality.
In this regards, the AU Commission has received with open hands many offers of support to help address these concerns that have come from the continental private sector, notably the African Virtual Trade-Diplomacy Platform (AVDP), itself a part of the broader AVRIVA (African Virtual Resilient-Integration for a Vibrant Africa) framework being developed as a public-private initiative between the AU Commission and the over two dozen major multinational African corporations and pan-African institutions operating under the umbrella of the AfroChampions Initiative.
The AVDP and the AVRIVA concept aims to rally support towards a campaign to keep the AfCFTA on track using technology by enabling member states to participate effectively and securely in the outstanding negotiations of the AfCFTA.
AU has noted that all analysis and studies confirm that the AfCFTA represents Africa’s best insurance policy and strategy to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
To ensure that member states’ outstanding concerns about the security and reliability of the pro-integration digital platforms are addressed through the AVDP initiative, the AU Commission constituted a high-level committee of experts, including representatives from member states, relevant departments and directorates of the AU Commission and security and information technology specialists from the African private sector, to examine all aspects of the matter and present comprehensive guidance and advice to the senior trade officials of member states tasked with the AfCFTA program.
Stating that the concerns about the timely commencement of AfCFTA trading come at a time when countries all over Africa are getting ready to reopen their borders and economies, AU has called for a coordinated and harmonized effort to prevent confusion in the integration agenda.
The AU Commission has expressed hope that digital technologies can play a very powerful role in driving positive cooperation among member states for a safe, smart and harmonized reopening process.
In this regard, the mandate of the high-level expert committee is being broadened to include a review of the various options available to members, including digital solutions, which could be used to roll out trade under the AfCFTA, according to the statement.