May 11, 2020: African trade experts and business leaders on the continent have signed an open letter stressing that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) can and must remain on course as earlier envisaged on July 1, 2020, and should not be postponed. Their view is emphasised in a new report, the AfCFTA Year Zero Report, published by The AfroChampions Initiative.

Speaking from Accra, Ghana, Edem Adzogenu, co-chair of the AfroChampions Initiative Executive Committee, on May 6, told The New Times that postponing the start of trading would be a mistake.

Launched in January 2017, the Afrochampions is a special implementation vehicle for major, innovative, public-private partnerships to harness big opportunities in Africa for transforming the continent’s best companies and institutions into globally significant players.

Adzogenu said, "It certainly will be a mistake to postpone because this may well be our new reality. My view is that the political decision has already been made for the start of trade to commence on July 1. If Covid-19 hadn’t struck, we would be on course. So, Covid-19 reality needs to be evaluated within the context of the technical, health, and economic realities that the pandemic presents. The reality is that we need essential products to be produced and health personnel moving across borders. It will be a mistake for African countries to keep treating each other as foreign markets in times like this."

Before the African business community made its position known, last month, South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, who is AU chairperson, recommended that the date as July 1, 2020 - originally chosen for starting trading under the agreement be postponed to January 1, 2021.

According to sources, AU Chairperson is now consulting member states to make a final decision, either on postponement or starting trading on July 1.

Adzogenu stressed, "We can’t anticipate 2021 just as we didn’t anticipate the Covid-19 pandemic. So we must approach this situation as if this is the new normal and find the measures, available technology, and resources to proceed with the negotiations."

AfroChampions strongly advocates that in the face of Covid-19, Africa should use the AfCFTA to simultaneously play offensive and defensive by adjusting to current and critical issues needed to fight the pandemic.

However, they stress, it is quite easy to use videoconferencing and online work platforms to keep AfCFTA negotiations and operationalisation on track. According to the Afrochampions, negotiators must adapt to the changing times.

"The new AfCFTA secretariat must fully embrace and innovate for the crisis period into which it has been birthed. We urge African trade ministers and governments to make the tough, creative, bold choice to march on – despite Covid-19," reads part of their 33-page report.

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