On 18 November 2020, Irish Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Barry Andrews of the Renew Europe Group posed a written parliamentary question to the European Commission:
“To date, 54 of the 55 African Union (AU) member states have signed the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. This agreement established the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and aims to address the relatively low rates of intra-Africa trade.
The World Bank has noted that in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the AfCFTA presents a major opportunity to help African countries diversify their exports, accelerate growth and attract foreign direct investment. Its implementation has, however, been delayed as a result of the pandemic.
The EU had been providing technical assistance in support of this initiative via the Pan-African Programme Multiannual Indicative Programme 2014-2017 (Phase I), the Pan-African Programme Multiannual Indicative Programme 2018-2020 (Phase II) and national Economic Partnership Agreement implementation plans prepared at country level, which the EU believes can build capacity and, in an indirect manner, contribute towards the full implementation of the AfCFTA.
1. Has this technical assistance continued during the pandemic?
2. What additional support will the Commission provide given the material change in the socio-economic circumstances of the African continent as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
3. Does the Commission believe the crisis will encourage or discourage the countries that have not ratified the agreement to do so?”
On 3 February 2021, International Partnerships Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen responded on behalf of the European Commission stating: “Through its Pan-African-Programme, the EU set aside EUR 72.5 million to support the African Continental Free Trade Area during 2014-2020. The EU is supporting capacity building for the negotiation, ratification and implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
The programmes have been progressing well, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, two modules of the African Trade Observatory (ATO), funded by EU, were launched during the AfCFTA Extraordinary Summit of African Heads of States and Governments on 5 December 2020. The Commission adopted a new action programme of EUR 32 million in support of the AfCFTA on 13 October 2020.
In order to limit the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU and its Member States, together with European financial institutions, joined forces and put in place a strong and coordinated response in a ‘Team Europe spirit’, mobilising around EUR 8 billion for Africa. The EU is also supporting international debt relief efforts to create more fiscal space and allow the sustainable recovery of the African continent, and is an important contributor to the COVAX initiative.
The EU welcomes the good progress in the ratification of the agreement by African countries despite the crisis, with 34 African Union Member States having ratified the agreement at end-2020.”
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