Niamey, Niger – 4 July 2019 – The African Union Commission in partnership with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the Coalition for Dialogue on Africa, organized the first-ever Civil Society Forum 2019 under the theme:  “Enhancing Civil Society Engagement in the AfCFTA to Broaden Inclusiveness” on the margins of the African Union Extraordinary Summit on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The purpose of the Civil Society Forum 2019 was, among others, to enhance stakeholder engagement on the implementation of the AfCFTA and increase participation opportunities for civil society stakeholders in the work programme of the AfCFTA. The Forum brought together participants from African Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), CSO umbrella organisations on trade, and members of the AU ECOSOC, among others.

The Forum follows a multi-stakeholder dialogue similarly organized by the AUC and the Coalition for Dialogue on Africa (CoDA) held in Addis Ababa in May, 2019 during which the Executive Director of CoDA, Mrs. Souad Aden-Osman highlighted the need for support from non-state actors in promoting this crucial agenda. “CoDA on several occasions has always stressed the promise that the AfCFTA is a key tool to bring the African Union closer to the people as was intended by its founding fathers”.

In his opening remarks, the Minister of Trade and Private Sector Promotion of Niger, Mr. Secko Seydou, implored civil society organizations to assert their role as a platform for citizen voices under the AfCFTA. Such a role, he stated, “requires CSOs to learn to work together and play complementary political roles, such as acting as gatekeepers, advocates, mobilizers, educators, researchers and policy analysts.” The Honorable Minister concluded his remarks by emphasizing the crucial role of CSOs in “advancing our ideals and supporting our work at national, regional and continental levels.”

The AUC’s Deputy Chairperson, Mr Kwesi Quartey, commended the Department of Trade and Industry for the initiative and noted that if successfully implemented, “the AfCFTA could generate a combined consumer and business spending of USD 6.7 trillion by 2030, accelerate industrial development, expand economic diversification, and facilitate quality job creation for Africa’s women and youth.”

Speaking on behalf of the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Director of Gender, Poverty and Social Policy, Ms Thokozile Ruzvidzo, said the AfCFTA could boost intra-African trade from its current level of 16% to 52% by 2022, according to ECA studies. Ms. Ruzvidzo noted, however, that visa and other immigration restrictions have constrained mobility within Africa and “increased the vulnerability of migrant and refugee populations on the continent.”

In the Keynote Presentation given on behalf of the Commissioner for Trade & Industry, Ag. Director of Trade & Industry, Mr Hassan Hussein highlighted the fact that the Agreement establishing the AfCFTA (which entered into force on 30th May 2019), would soon have 54 signatories out of the 55 AU Member States, and currently has 25 ratifications. He went on to outline specific challenges and opportunities posed by the AfCFTA, which will create more trade than it diverts and generate significant welfare gains for the majority of State Parties.

During the panel discussions, Ms Alice Kemunto who runs a Kenya-based CSO called Consumer Grassroots Association, said: “It’s important for CSOs to be involved in this process because they work closely and directly with people at the grassroots level and, therefore, have what it takes for the AfCFTA to be felt and implemented at the grassroots level.”

The Forum acknowledged that the AfCFTA is not just an issue of financing trade as it also involves hard infrastructure such as power, roads and rail, etc. Amongst the recommendations from the Forum was the need for national policies to support production and consumption of goods and services that will be identifiable as being “Made in Africa” using quality standards, and the importance of prioritizing the implementation of the ‘African Passport’ as part of the AU Free Movement Protocol.

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