Abuja -West African Governments have been urged to harmonise efforts at ensuring the realisation of a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) to boost trade and integration within the region by 2017.
The call was made on Wednesday in Abuja at the opening of ECOWAS Regional Consultative Meeting on the CFTA and Boosting Intra-African Trade.
The objectives of the CFTA are to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments as well as facilitate the establishment of a Customs Union.
In her address, AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry, Mrs Fatima Acyl emphasised the need for member states to develop effective mechanisms to facilitate trade and integration in Africa.
Acyl was represented by Mrs Treasure Maphanga, the Director, Trade and Industry, AU Commission.
Acyl said: “the successful implementation of the CFTA Initiative requires the participation of multiple stakeholders; these include the private sector, civil society, parliamentarians and academia among others.
“Our agenda for this meeting will provide us with an opportunity to review the opportunities and challenges that confront ECOWAS member states in the implementation of the Customs Union.
“As we move towards the implementation of the decision of our leaders to establish the CFTA by an indicative date of 2017, let us summon all our energies and prepare for the work before us.
“Members have agreed that the CFTA should include trade in goods, trade in services, investment, intellectual property rights and competition.
“For us to deliver on all these elements, we must put in place an efficient and effective mechanism for the CFTA negotiations.”
The commissioner also urged member states to provide resources for the implementation of the CFTA.
“The responsibility should not be left to development partners.’’
She called on governments to make provisions to fund the free trade initiatives and invest in human capacity and institutional building to facilitate delivery.
“We should not allow a situation where the financial situation of our development partners is allowed to affect our progress on this important initiative.
“As we move towards implementation, governments at the national level should endeavour to make provisions for funding the negotiations and the implementation of Boosting Intra-African Trade Action Plans,” she said.
Mr David Luke, the Coordinator for Africa Trade Policy Centre, Regional Integration and Trade Division, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), commended the ECOWAS sub-region for its leadership role.
Luke said: “We also see a lot of improvement on non-tariff barriers, removal of road blocks and many of the impediments to trade; we are beginning to see this happen.’’
“Regional Economic Communities (RECs) that are the building blocks of the CFTA by virtue of their establishment have been making significant efforts to reduce tariffs on intra-regional imports to a relatively low level.
“Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, East African Community (EAC), ECOWAS and Southern African Development Community, have all taken significant measures towards transport facilitation and reducing non-tariff barriers.
“With regards to liberalisation of movement of people, progress has been made notably in EAC (particularly Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda) and ECOWAS.
“Steps have been taken to facilitate movement of their nationals between the member countries of the bloc.”
He, however, reiterated the need for governments to invest in infrastructural development and build competitive firms and industries in line with global best practices.
The CFTA negotiations were launched at 25th Ordinary Summit of Head of States and Governments in June.
To meet the 2017 implementation deadline, member states are expected to reduce trade barriers among themselves by drastically reducing export and import duties and, in some cases, waiving visa requirements. (NAN)