Tempers fly at African ministers of trade meeting

By Timo Shihepo

Niamey – Several African ministers of trade were engaged in a heated verbal bust-up at the sixth African ministerial meeting of Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) in Niamey, Niger, last week.

The ministers of trade met in Niger ahead of the Continental Free Trade Area deadline in December.

CFTA is an initiative by the African Union Commission aimed at creating a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, and thus paves the way for accelerating the establishment of the Continental Customs Union.

It all started when the Ugandan minister, Amelia Kyambadde lashed out at senior trade officials from all the African countries for not doing what was required of them.

The senior trade officials had been in Niger two weeks prior to preparations for the two-day ministerial meeting.

They were tasked to consider the reports of the fifth and sixth meetings of the continental free trade area-negotiating forum, which were presented to ministers of trade last week.

“The senior trade officials have failed us. In these reports there is no mention of closing the gap between politics and trade. How do we trade without having political guidance? The senior trade officials have failed the ministers,” said the Ugandan minister.

Below is a rundown of what transpired:

AU Commission for Trade and Industry commissioner, Albert Muchanga: “The senior trade officials failed to do their job. So they should be punished. They will not be going for lunch (15th June meeting) they should remain in the conference room and find a solution by the time we are back. We will give them two hours”.

Egypt minsiter: Tareq Qabil: “I don’t think two hours are enough for such a big task. I must warn that if everyone, including all the ministers here today, do not commit to a certain level of ambitions and timeframe we will not achieve anything we ought to”.

DRC minister’s representative, Kwete Floribert: “The issue of politics has damaged a lot of developments in Africa. In the negotiations of AGOA (The African Growth and Opportunity Act), the DRC was left out because of political reasons. Africa cannot move forward if political reasons outweigh economic developments. Africa should not move in bits. I ask the African Union to look into our matter because this is fraud and unacceptable. We do not want to be left out”.

Rwanda:  Francois Kanimba: “It is unfair that there are some countries rated as low income countries within the respective customs unions. This is unfair because they earn money that they shouldn’t be earning from these customs. If that’s the case why don’t we create a ‘broke’ customs unions for these countries. These so-called countries are part of SACU, East African Community Customs Union, and Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) amongst others”.

Ghana: Alan Kyeremanten: “Am I allowed to use the word reprimand in this meeting? I want to reprimand all the ministers here that personal interest should not prevail over continental interests. There is a purpose why we came here. We should not forget that. We should not make petty statements”.

South Africa: Rob Davies: “I don’t think we are far from achieving ‘closing the political gap’ we just need to guide the senior trade officials. However on the other hand we mustn’t forget that we will be going to Argentina for the 11th ministerial meeting at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) forum later this year (December) and we haven’t found a common African goal to take it there yet. People are going to laugh at us. My fear is that we would not have anything by the time December hits the calendar. We need to have a meeting to discuss WTO before we go there. South Africa volunteers to host this meeting”.

Rwanda: Francois Kanimba: “Why are we now discussing WTO when we came to discuss CFTA? Also why are countries suggesting to host events when there is a continental organisation (African Union Commission)? We should not come here to waste each other’s time”.

Asked about the heated arguments between the ministers AU’s Director of Trade & Industry, Treasure Thembisile Maphanga told The Southern Times that “Having different opinions in a negotiation process is absolutely normal. In our view it enhances the quality of decision making. Everyone around the table has a voice and they are respected. It is true that there were a lot of debate and discussion and the answers were not necessarily that simple because of the diversity that we have on the continent. That diversity means the answers also might not be pleasant because some countries are not part of a regional bloc others in the same regional blocs are not at the same levels and some countries are not even members of World Trade Organisation.”

June 2017
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