Deputy Secretary General Amina J. Mohammed meeting with the Heads of Regional Commissions.

Africa has a more powerful tool in the African Continental Free Trade Area, or AfCFTA,to use in accelerating regional and economic integration and prepare for uncertain times – and that means the continent does not need a Marshall Plan to ride out the ongoing coronavirus crisis, according to a UN official.

Vera Songwe, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, made the comments during a virtual panel discussion to mark the inaugural Africa Integration Day that was set aside by the African Union to mark the implementation of the free trade area.

“We need to talk about Africa and the AfCFTA. The AfCFTA is our plan so let us take it and run with it,” Songwe said in the discussion held last week.

In a statement released to mark the inaugural Africa Integration Day, Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s president and the African Union chairman, said the first commemoration is taking place in unusual circumstances given the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected everyone in Africa and around the world.

“Difficult as it is, the pandemic has inspired us to realize the potential we have to harness and address this challenge. In this regard, we need to reconfigure alternative supply chains in the face of the disruptions that emerged as soon as blockades and quarantines came into play to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ramaphosa said.

“As we look to the post-COVID-19 era, it is clear that the future of Africa as regards recovery, development and resilience lies in accelerating its economic integration through the implementation, at the level of Africa, of the AfCFTA. The AfCFTA offers the best platform for us to build and deliver inclusive and sustainable development by using the large market space to mobilize investment,” Ramaphosa added.

In her remarks, Songwe added that it was crucial for Africa to integrate its financial systems to create a mutual system of financial stability that works for the continent, or regional monetary cooperation as in East Asia.

“The Afreximbank Exchange Facility is an excellent step in the right direction. But more is needed to integrate our economies and financial sectors. This would mean that when there is a crisis we can come together and mutualize our resources so that those who are the most hit get some resources,” Songwe said.

Songwe said the outbreak has given Africa an opportunity to assess its weak health care delivery systems with countries like South Africa, Ethiopia, Morocco and others building new health care infrastructure.

The panelists, who included Benedict Oramah, president of the African Export–Import Bankor Afreximbank, and Chileshe Kapwepwe, secretary-general of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, agreed that the crisis presents a great opportunity that the continent should not waste, in particular using lessons learned for Africa’s industrial development. Africa should produce its own drugs and save billions of dollars by working closer together under the free trade area.

The free trade area agreement was due to commence on July 1 but as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic, this date has been postponed and a new date is yet to be confirmed by the Africa Union.

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