Excellency, Mr. Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda and the
Chairperson of the African Union
Your Excellencies, Heads of State and Government of AU Assembly
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
We are gathered here on this historic event marking the signing of an African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) Agreement. This is the first time in the history of our Union that we have decided to create a Free Trade Area. The aim is to boost intra-African trade to promote economic growth, structural transformation and industrialization of the African economies. Improving commercial engagement between African countries will not only be crucial for the development of our economies but will also strengthen our engagement with the rest of the world.
The concept of Regional Integration is nothing new to Africa as the region has been the forerunner of economic integration initiatives over a century with the establishment of the South African Customs Union (SACU) in 1901.
Africa’s continued desire for regional integration is because our individual economies are too small to enable Africa to harness the vast potential and opportunities the continent offers to her people.
This extra-ordinary summit is to strengthen our desire to create the economic space for our industries and businesses to leverage these opportunities that Africa offers.
The Free Trade Area will help African industries and businesses to become competitive by creating economies of scale, re-position them to effectively compete and engage with the rest of the world. It can also establish and strengthen regional product value chains, facilitate the transfer of technology and knowledge. The Agreement will also boost industrial development, promote economic transformation and create new job opportunities and wealth for the youthful population.
I am also with strong conviction that given the African market of over one billion people, the implementation of the Free Trade Area will significantly increase intra-African trade which currently stands at around 12%. I therefore commend the inclusion of industrialization as a strategic vehicle in realizing the CFTA goals.
To take advantage of the Free Trade Area, we need to address the barriers that continue to limit the growth of trade in all the regional groupings. The barriers raise prices for consumers, undermine the predictability of the trade regime, and reduce investment in the region. Therefore, tackling barriers to intra-African trade can help our companies to trade more with each other in line with the objective of the Free Trade Area Agreement.
Effective regional integration is more than removing tariffs; it is also about addressing on-the-ground constraints that paralyze the daily operations of ordinary producers and traders.
To deliver integrated markets that attract investment in agro-processing, manufacturing and new services, we must work together to move beyond tariff reduction toward a more holistic process of deeper regional integration.
Therefore to maximise the opportunity offered by the Continental Free Trade Area we also need to address the challenges related to productive capacity development as well as improve our hard and soft infrastructures to improve the competiveness of our economies. My Government has developed and launched a new three year National Development Plan to help the country to develop the needed capacities to enhance our participation in international trade.
Given the market size of The Gambia, we believe that the country will derive significant benefit from the Continental Free Trade Area. This therefore more than any other thing informed our active participation in the negotiations from inception. We are committed to its full and effective implementation as we move towards ratification and implementation.
The fact that it has taken us three years to negotiate and agree to sign this agreement is an indication of our strong commitment for the establishment of the Continental Free Trade Area.
The signing of the Agreement would also send a strong signal to the rest of the world that Africa is now ready for business. Our collective commitment to the Continental Free Trade Area can be a game charger in re-positioning Africa in the global trading system. I therefore thank the negotiators and experts for the efforts that went into this process.
It is my Government’s fervent hope and believe that as we are faced with global challenges on trade, this Agreement will form an integral part of Africa’s response to these challenges. This will be achieved through progressive elimination of tariff and dismantling of Non-tariff barriers among African countries.
I am confident that the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement will therefore provide a solid platform for the State Parties to work together towards sustainable growth and development. It will also serve in mobilizing African support in advancing the WTO Doha Development Agenda and advocate for a stronger multilateral trading system.
I therefore call on all the state parties to support the full implementation of the Agreement. I also encourage business operators and private investors to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the Agreement.
The successful implementation of CFTA is linked to multiple areas such as the existence of peace and security, climate change, as agricultural products form a large part of our export trade.
We need to translate our commitments to formulate effective strategies for our youths and women to be involved in the CFTA process. The success of a Free Trade Area is inter-connected with Free movement of people, goods, and services. Our landmark decisions on the free movement of people within the continent and the Single African Air Transport Market is encouraging. I recommend therefore that the Commission develop a clear roadmap to help Member States to implement the CFTA.
Allow me this opportunity to congratulate H.E. President Kagame on his assumption of the chairpersonship of our Union and thank him for his valuable contributions to the transformative processes we are implementing for our Union particularly in the AU Reform Process.
May I once again extend my sincere gratitude to President Paul Kagame and the people of Rwanda for the hospitality accorded to me and my delegation since our arrival in this beautiful city of Kigali.
I congratulate H.E. President Alpha Conde for the successes we registered during his tenure as chairperson of our Union, for they are important in making our Union a dynamic player in the international system.
I also wish to commend the African Union Commission and all our partners for the efforts put to the organization of this Summit as well as excellent conduct of the negotiations over the last three years.
My sincere gratitude also goes to my colleagues, particularly to President Mahamadou Issoufou, President Muhammadu Buhari, and President Faure Gnassingbé for championing various thematic areas to move our Union forward.
I also congratulate the countries that took the decisions to exempt African citizens from entry visa requirements.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate the commitment of The Gambia to the full and effective implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement. I recommend that the following steps be taken:
1. Develop strong regulatory frameworks and principles to govern the rules of origin. This is meant to ensure that the CFTA is not affected by arrangements that may undermine the desired extensive industrialization on the continent.
2. Develop and implement strong arbitration mechanisms to ensure prudence and predictability in a manner that would resolve potential conflicts or disputes.
3. Develop a clear and realistic roadmap to help Member States to implement the CFTA.
I thank you for your attention.