African Union Summit in Niger: Historic Rendezvous!

Last update: 1st July 2019

The African Union Heads of State will hold an extraordinary Summit on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) on the 7th July 2019 in Niamey, Niger. The Summit will be dedicated to the launch of the operational phase of the AfCFTA as well as its operational instruments.

The extraordinary Summit will be held in the margins of the inaugural session of the Mid-Year Coordination Meeting of the African Union and the Regional Economic Communities (8th July) that replaces the previous mid-year AU Summit, as decided within the framework of the ongoing African Union reform.

The Executive Council of the AU (Ministers of Foreign Affairs) will have its ordinary session on the 4th & 5th July on the same occasion deliberate on important documents and reports of AU organs including most likely the 2020 budget of the Union the legal documents of the new African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), the theme of the year 2020 among other things.

In this personal blog I am sharing an overview of the key items on the Agenda of these important gatherings, the outcome of which would be a big step toward the  implementation of the Agenda 2063, the Africa we want.

The Launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area: What Expectations?

The Treaty establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area aims to 1/ Create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, therefore, pave the way for accelerating the establishment of a continental customs union, 2/ Expand intra-Africa trade through better harmonization and coordination of trade liberalization, facilitation regimes and instruments across the continent, 3/ Resolve the challenges of multiple and overlapping memberships and expedite the regional and continental integration processes , 4/Enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level through exploiting opportunities for scale production, continental market access and better reallocation of resources in Africa.

The African Continental Free Trade Area then provides an opportunity to promote policies  and resources that could create conditions for harnessing Africa demographic dividend in the context of creating space for jobs, especially for the youth and economic diversification. This requires attention to expediting domestic capital formation and using capital market strategies to drive the creation and expansion of small and medium enterprises involving youth ownership.

If genuinely implemented, the AfCFTA will provide a framework to ease the cost of doing business within Africa. It will aggregate the very fragmented African market  but,… will the continent quickly address non-tariff barriers, such as infrastructure backlogs, border corruption, poor communication means etc? Above all I am also wondering if we have enough to trade among ourselves with this ambitious trade agreement while our economies are mostly alike and largely dominated by the exportation of raw material. To take full advantage of the AfCFTA African leaders should deliberately and aggressively invest in industrialization without waiting. An initial focus should be on agriculture and agro-industry development.

The Agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) entered into force on 30th May 2019 for the 24 countries that ratified it. 52 of the 55 AU Member states signed the AfCFTA. Only Benin, Eritrea and Nigeria have not signed the Treaty. If fully ratified, the AfCFTA will open the largest free trade zone in the world with a collective GDP of over $3 trillion and more than 1.2 billion consumers. AfCFTA is expected to boost intra-Africa trade, which accounts roughly for 17% only of all the continent’s exports. The UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has estimated that intra-Africa trade would likely increase to 52.3 % by 2020 due to the AfCFTA.

The Extraordinary Summit

Hotel Niamey

Beside the launch of the operational phase of the AfCFTA, the AU Summit’s delegations to be hosted in the newly built Radisson Blu Hotel of Niamey are expected to launch the following operational instruments of the treaty.

  • Rules of Origin Portal
  • Tariff Concession Portals
  • Portal on Monitoring and Elimination of Non-Tariff Barriers
  • Digital Payments and Clearing System
  • African Trade Observatory Dashboard

The Niamey Summit will surely be one of the most attended  AU Summit by Heads of State and other personalities in recent time.  Special guests will likely include the Secretary General of the United Nations António Guterres, the Director General of the World Trade Organization, Roberto Azevêdo, the Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Dr.  Mukhisa Kituyi, the President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the African Export–Import Bank (AFREXIMBANK) Professor  Benedict Okey Oramah, the Executive Director of International Trade Center Dr. Arancha Gonzalez, the European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica among others.

The Summit will also consider and approve a set of other decisions coming from the Executive Council as part of the reform of the African Union.

On the Agenda of the Executive Council

The Ministers of Foreign Affairs will most likely discuss and eventually make decisions on the following:

  • The legal instruments of the new African Union Development Agency – NEPAD including the statutes and the rules of procedures of its governing structures
  • The new statutes of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM)
  • AU budget for 2020: the current draft budget is around 647 Million USD, more than 60% of which will be paid by external partners
  • The Theme of the year 2020. The current proposal is:“Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development”
  • The Implementation of Agenda 2063
  • The African Court on Human and People’s Rights
  • The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights
  • The Challenges and Ratification/Accession and Implementation of the OAU/AU Treaties and decisions

In addition the Council will consider the agenda, working documents and expected outcomes of the Mid-Year Coordination Meeting of the African Union and the Regional Economic Communities.

Discussions and decisions on the new departmental structure of the AU Commission in the framework of the African Union reform will likely be differed  to the February 2020 Summit.

Several side events are also on the Summit agenda.

The Mid-Year Coordination Meeting of the African Union and the Regional Economic Communities: The way forward toward Effectiveness and Efficiency?

au-summit_banners_july2019_website

From now on, according to a decision of the Assembly of the Union, there will be only one ordinary AU Summit per year instead of the two Summits previously held. The Mid-year Summit has now become a Coordination Meeting with the Regional Economic Communities (RECS). The Permanent Representatives Committee (Ambassadors) and the Executive Council of the Union will normally convene as before, prior to the Coordination Meeting. In Niamey, the rules of procedure of the coordination meeting will be considered and eventually adopted. The Mid-Year Coordination Meeting will normally be the highest committee for the African Union and RECs to align their work and coordinate the implementation of the continental integration agenda. The rules of procedures to be discussed in Niamey will define the composition of the gathering, criteria for participation, the running of its business, powers and decision making mechanisms. These policies would have to be adopted ultimately by the Assembly of the Union.

Regional Economic Communities (RECs) are regional groupings of African States each lead by a Head of State or Government on a rotational basis.  Currently the African Union recognizes 8 RECs from the 5 geographical regions of the continent. They are seen as the building blocks of the African Union in its economic integration process. The 8 RECs are: AMUCEN-SADCOMESAEACECCASECOWASIGAD and SADC.

The RECs work more and more closely with the African Union and are expected to serve their member States with the implementation of the regional integration agenda. The RECs were formed on either historical, political or economic basis. Their members are generally of more than one regional economic community and they operate at different levels of capacity and efficiency. You can read more about the RECs here.

The launch of the mid-year coordination meeting between the AU and the RECs carries the hope to deal with the cumbersome issue of overlap, duplication and sometime competition between the African Union and the RECs, to finally insure complementarity, subsidiarity and to use the comparative advantages  of each of the regional bodies vis a vis the African Union. It will also create an important platform to track the implementation of the African Union decisions at country level; more than 80% of which remain in the shelves untouched according to various reports.

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