Parliament has approved the agreement between the government and the African Union (AU) for the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat in Accra.
Key provisions of the agreement require that Ghana, as the host country, shall provide, at its own expense, a secure, equipped and furnished permanent premises for the secretariat.
It said the secretariat shall have a legal personality with the capacity to enter into a contract and acquire and dispose of movable and immovable property needed for its operations in accordance with the laws of Ghana.
The agreement also said the government shall provide a secure, equipped and furnished official residence for the head of the secretariat, and shall guarantee the inviolability of the premises of the secretariat, which shall also be accorded diplomatic status.
“Officials of the secretariat and state parties to the AfCFTA agreement shall enjoy within the host country privileges and immunities as established by the General Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU)”.
“Member states participating in the work of the secretariat and representatives of non-African states accredited to the secretariat shall be entitled to the same privileges and immunities as accorded to diplomatic envoys of comparable rank under international law,” it said.
The agreement also stipulates, however, that all persons enjoying privileges and immunities accorded by the host country were to comply with the laws and regulations of Ghana.
“The secretariat shall freely purchase any currencies through authorised channels and hold and dispose of them, transfer its funds to or from the host country, and operate accounts in any currency.
“The secretariat is exempt from any direct or indirect taxes except for charges and taxes on public utility services including compulsory contributions to any social security scheme of the host country,” it stated.
The Host Country Agreement was executed between the GoG and the AU Commission on February, 10, 2020 for the establishment of the secretariat of the AfCFTA, pursuant to Article 75(2) of the 1992 Constitution.
It was laid in Parliament by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Ms Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, on June 3, this year, and the Speaker referred it to the Committee on Foreign Affairs for consideration and report.
Presenting the report, the Chairman of the committee, Mr Frank Annoh-Dompreh, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs worked closely with the Ministry of Trade and Industry and other stakeholders to conclude the agreement.
“Stakeholder consultations were organised to seek inputs before finalising the agreement with the AU Commission,” he said.
He informed the House that the AfCFTA Secretary-General had been appointed by AU Heads of State and Governments at the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly.
In addition, he said four Directors and essential staff were currently being recruited, while other essential staff for the secretariat would be seconded by the AU Commission and the member states.
Employment opportunities for Ghanaians
Mr Annoh-Dompreh said hosting the secretariat in Ghana would offer job opportunities for Ghanaians.
Apart from the AU Commission, he said member states and regional community groups and associations that were required to second essential and technical staff to work with the secretariat, majority of the job offerings at the secretariat, particularly in the general staff category, would be available to qualified persons.
“Although the Ministry Foreign Affairs could not provide the specific percentage of Ghanaians that would be employed at the secretariat, the committee was assured that the secretariat would be guided in its recruitment policy to hire the majority of Ghanaians, particularly in the general staff category as the practice pertaining in countries hosting AU Organs,” he stated.
Commencement of operation
Mr Annoh-Dompreh indicated that the commencement date of the operation of the secretariat had been rescheduled from July 1, this year to January 1, next year.
The change in date was as a result of the closure of borders in many African countries, including Ghana, because of the outbreak of COVID-19 late last year, he said.
“The situation made it impossible for the movement of the Secretary-General and the support staff who were leading the processes towards the commencement and full operationalisation of the secretariat,” he said.
He added that in pursuit of the new commencement date, an AU summit was scheduled for December, 2020 to consider and approve the protocols for trading, including Rules of Origin and Rules on Market Access, which were to be determined first by the Council of Ministers of Trade.
Contributing to the motion to approve the agreement, the Minority Leader, Mr Haruna Iddrisu, commended the President, Ministers of Trade and Industry and Foreign Affairs for getting Ghana to host the AfCFTA secretariat.
He, however, asked the House to find out why initially Nigeria and South Africa, two major economic players on the continent, were reluctant to sign on to the agreement, saying some had argued that it had the potential to undermine local businesses.
Citing statistics to justify his concern, Mr Iddrisu said at the end of 2016, intra-trade among Asian countries was between 59 and 69 per cent, while that among Africans was only 18 per cent.
“Mr Speaker, if you take global trade generally, the contribution of Africa was two per cent at the end of 2017, but I recognise the potential in the future of Africa and that is why Ghana must take full advantage,” he said.
Ms Botchwey said the AfCFTA would be the largest trading bloc since the formation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
It is made up of 55 member states with a combined market size of 1.2 billion people and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of almost $3 trillion.
“Mr Speaker, this affords us a great opportunity for Africa to take its rightful place when trading is concerned,” she said.