Good morning everyone; and warm wishes from the World Trade Organization in Geneva.

It gives me great pleasure to join you at this opening ceremony of the 5th Annual Meeting of the Africa Economic Zones Organization (AEZO).  I believe that today marks an important milestone in the history of your organization that is worthy of celebration. Let me, therefore, heartily congratulate you and wish you a great future ahead.

We are, today, living in an unprecedented time, with extraordinary challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. While governments, in all economies, are taking steps to mitigate its impact, trade, no doubt, continues to remain a key part of the solution to protect jobs, ensure steady income and improve standards of living of people in Africa. 

Against this challenging environment, the successful implementation of the AfCFTA could help mitigate the economic crisis; and set the continent on a common path for renewed growth.

The AfCFTA holds tremendous potential in boosting intra-African trade, which could pave the way for greater and beneficial integration with the world economy.  Lowering of tariffs and non-tariff barriers, coupled with improvement of hard and soft infrastructure at the borders will enhance competitiveness and result in lower compliance costs for traders. This will make it easier for businesses across the continent to integrate into global supply chains. It is, however, just a beginning. Much work remains ahead of us.

The WTO welcomes all initiatives to enhance regional integration in Africa; and would continue to make contributions to facilitate smoother trade flows across its members. The WTO's Trade Facilitation Agreement provides a template to benefit trade through reduced administrative burdens, costs, and delays related to border procedures. I have no doubt that this will significantly contribute to the successful implementation of the AfCFTA.

This pandemic has highlighted the critical need for governments to work, not only with each other but with all stakeholders, in particular the business sector and wider civil society. In the coming months and years ahead, trade policy decisions, as well as other economic policy choices, will determine to a large extent the pace of economic growth and recovery.

It is my firm conviction that the activities, projects and initiatives taken by AEZO will contribute to this endeavour by bringing tangible results for African trade and prosperity.

I wish you a productive discussion: and look forward to the outcomes of your deliberations.

I thank you.




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