The AU ministerial meeting from 5-6 May is discussing the trade response to COVID-19 and the state of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA)
Ahead of the meeting, a number of business leaders signed a joint letter calling for ministers and heads of state to ensure they stick to the deadline of 1 July for the agreement to come into force.
The letter has been written in response to rumours in international media that the AfCFTA date of 1 July will be postponed until next year. The signatories say that there is no legitimate reason to postpone the AfCFTA even if they understand that a staggered approach can be used given current circumstances.
One of the signatories of the letter is Paulo Gomes, former executive director of the World Bank and chair of Executive committee of AfroChampions. The AfroChampions network has been mandated by the African Union to coordinate private sector discussions around the AfCFTA. He said that ministers meeting next week had a duty to respect the current deadline.
"We understand that certain parts of the AfCFTA are sensitive. The rules of origins and tariffs need time but we can start with trading of essential goods. That will send a strong message to the world that we are serious about the AfCFTA and to African businesses. The private sector is the biggest beneficiary of the AfCFTA and with supply chains being disrupted globally, it is even more urgent that we have a functioning system within the continent to create continental supply chains."
In the letter, the signatories acknowledged that governments had been right to ensure that the immediate response was a health one. But the looming crisis is economic and the AfCFTA is an important tool to help stimulate investment and to create African value chains.
According to them, there is no reason why the negotiations can not be held virtually. With the world in lockdown, scientists come together virtually to develop a cure against the virus, which shows that negotiations and talks can take place virtually. They further call for the work of the Secretariat which includes the recruitment of its staff can also continue, to ensure the Secretariat is operational as soon as lockdowns are effectively over.