AU summit calls for continental free trade by 2017

Addis Ababa – The heads of state summit of the African Union (AU), which ended in Addis Ababa early on Tuesday morning, has endorsed a plan to set up a continental free trade area by 2017.

Speaking to reporters at the end of the summit, Mozambican Foreign Minister Oldemiro Baloi said the heads of state, pursuing the summit’s main theme of “Boosting Intra-African Trade”, had decided that “more aggressive trade policies” are needed, including the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers between African countries.

Other requirements for improving trade were mobility of labour across the continent, better education and training facilities, and investment in infrastructure such as roads and railways.

Baloi said the summit drew up a road map for free trade. First, by 2014, all AU member states should be members of sub-regional free trade areas, taking as their model the tripartite free trade arrangement about to be implemented by SADC (Southern African Development Community), COMESA (Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa) and the EAC (East African Community).

In 2015-2016, these sub-regional free trade areas should be consolidated, leading to the launch of the continental free trade area in 2017. “This is a very ambitious programme”, Baloi admitted.

The AU thus has just five years to work out difficult trade issues. Perhaps the thorniest will be the rules of origin – to prevent non-African exporters from abusing the free trade area by swamping it with cheap goods in which the only African content is the packaging or the label.

The summit also reviewed all the conflicts that still affect the continent. The key themes of this discussion, said Baloi, were “the need to seek peaceful solutions to conflicts, and that agreements reached should be scrupulously respected”.

But to ensure that agreements work, he added, African countries should make the agreed resources available in good time.

The basic AU position of “African solutions to African problems” was under threat from interference by forces from outside the continent. “Some African countries are very vulnerable to this type of interference”, said Baloi, although he did not give any specific examples.

Asked whether the summit had made any headway on the dispute between Sudan and South Sudan over the transport of oil from the South Sudanese oil wells to northern Sudanese ports, Baloi could not report much progress. He said that matters were complicated by internal disputes within South Sudan, and continuing disagreements in the north about how the secession of South Sudan had been handled.

The African Union, the UN and key partners of the two Sudans (notably China) are working to bring about negotiated solutions to the matters left pending when South Sudan became independent, Baloi added.

As for the South Sudanese threat to shut down its oil industry while new pipelines are built to Kenya, Baloi regarded this as “a negotiating tactic”.

“You don’t build a pipeline from one day to the next”, he said.

On the margins of the summit, Mozambican President Armando Guebuza attended a meeting of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA). This body was set up by Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who on Monday handed over the chairmanship of ALMA to Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson. Baloi said that Guebuza becomes the deputy chairperson of the organization, and that Mozambique is one of the countries that has won ALMA awards for progress in the fight against malaria.

The “Excellence Award” was granted to Mozambique, Rwanda and Burundi for removing tariffs on mosquito nets and all other essential goods used in the battle against malaria, and for banning the import of oral artemisinin -based monotherapies (instead of the World Health Organisation approved artimisinin-based combined therapies). The monotherapies are relatively ineffective, and the malaria parasite has built up resistance to them.

Four other countries – Tanzania, Benin, Cameroon and Kenya – were given “second category” awards for making outstanding progress in malaria control.

Post published in: Africa News

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