“We are gathered today to pay tribute to a phenomenal gentleman, the late Ambassador Chiedu Osakwe. He was the model public servant, quintessential diplomat, champion of the multilateral trading system, a mentor, and above all, a marvellous human being. He was one of the best trade policy minds of his generation that Africa has ever produced. Ambassador Osakwe was easily one of the most outstanding and dedicated supporters of the multilateral trading system — and of its embodiment in the WTO,” said the AfCFTA Secretary-General.
Ambassador Osakwe passed away on 22 September 2019. He was one of the first senior African directors in the WTO Secretariat, where he served between 1998 and 2016. He was then appointed as Nigeria's first Chief Trade Negotiator. Ambassador Osakwe served as the Chairman of the Negotiating Forum of the AfCFTA from June 2017 to March 2018 and worked closely with Mr Mene. Under his chairmanship, African Union member states successfully concluded negotiations which led to the signing of the Agreement Establishing the AfCFTA in March 2018.
In his lecture, Mr Mene referred to the AfCFTA as “much more than a trade agreement”. He underlined that the continental trade agreement is about re-organizing the geo-economic landscape of Africa, shedding the inheritance of a divided continent and fragmented markets, and generating robust growth for job creation. “It is a vehicle for Africa’s economic transformation,” he said.
Mr Mene underlined the important linkages between the AfCFTA and the WTO, as the launch and operationalisation of the AfCFTA signals Africa’s preference for a rules-based multilateralism, aligning with the WTO’s principles. “The successful and effective implementation of the AfCFTA strengthens the WTO as it adds a very significant portion of market opening to the WTO based on rules. Today, Africa is leading the way, affirming and reaffirming its confidence in a rules-based system of economic liberalization as an essential pathway to achieve inclusive and equitable development-oriented results,” he stressed.
“The future of the multilateral trading system will need to draw strength from the aspirations and dynamism of Africa, galvanized by the AfCFTA,” he further noted. “The AfCFTA, rather than signifying a retreat from trade with the rest of the world, is designed to promote Africa’s global market position by unifying the continent under one voice, especially in global policy trade negotiations. It is time for Africa to derive substantial benefits from both continental and global economic integration. This must remain a major objective for both Africa and the multilateral trading system.” His full statement is available here.
Dr Bright Okogu, Chief of Staff to WTO Director-General Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, stressed the importance of having an economically integrated African continent within the multilateral trading system. “A stronger Africa means a stronger multilateral trading system as African countries constitute over a quarter of the WTO membership … . They are all signatories of the AfCFTA, and we would like to ensure that they make solid gains from their participation in the two mutually compatible and supportive trade regimes, particularly now as many African countries have suffered from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
He added: “In this regard, the WTO Secretariat stands ready to support and work together in the implementation of the AfCFTA by making available our knowledge and expertise, resources and networks.”
A video recording of the session can be found here.