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African trade deal 'amazing' for Commonwealth

23 March 2018

A deal which allows Commonwealth citizens and businesspersons to travel, trade and invest across Africa is good for member states. That’s according to Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, who was speaking with Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta during her first official visit to the country.

The president was among 44 leaders who signed the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) protocol in Kigali, Rwanda, on Wednesday. AfCFTA paves the way for the African region to become one of the world’s largest trading blocs.

“Nineteen members of the African Union are part of the Commonwealth family,” Secretary-General Scotland said. “This protocol is ground-breaking news for them because our research suggests that when Commonwealth countries trade with one another, it is 19 per cent cheaper and this is the Commonwealth Advantage.

“The common language, common culture and common laws which bind us together make it easier and more efficient to trade with family members. The question now is, how do we draw on this immense relationship across a third of the world and increase the advantage to 30 percent?”

The Secretary-General met President Kenyatta, Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Ambassador Monica Juma, Attorney General Justice Githu Muigai, Cabinet Secretary for Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs Professor Margaret Kobia, during a two-day visit to Nairobi. She also met the former prime minister, Raila Odinga, and law students at Strathmore University for a policy dialogue on domestic violence.

She told the president, “The African Continental Free Trade Area agreement gives us the perfect platform to facilitate trade across the Commonwealth. What we have been doing at the Secretariat is to create good practice frameworks and toolkits, as well as working in collaboration with member states to provide technical assistance for extra support.

“We need to continue this work going forward, creating cheaper, better, faster implementation toolkits. That way we can boost trade by sharing good practice and lessons learned with 53-member countries. We have created an Innovation Hub and what we do know is that if we invest in women and girls, we reap real benefits exponentially.”

President Kenyatta agreed that African countries would be stronger together if they achieved higher levels of intra-African trade and the Commonwealth would grow together by creating greater business opportunities with one another.

During the meeting, they discussed the existential threat of climate change in Kenya and the need to continue to develop a regenerative approach to implement the Paris Agreement and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They also talked about the potential for opportunities in the blue economy and support for the Commonwealth Blue Charter, the principles for sustainable ocean governance and economic activity.

The Secretary-General pledged the Secretariat’s support to President Kenyatta’s development agenda, including the Big Four Agenda, which focuses on housing, manufacturing, food security and affordable healthcare. 

The Commonwealth could help mitigate the challenges of law reform and legal structures by making sure that countries make best use of the Office of Civil and Criminal Justice Reform (OCCJR) which assists member states in delivering access to justice and sustainable development through the creation of fair and effective national laws, said Secretary-General Scotland.

President Kenyatta reaffirmed his support for the Commonwealth and told the Secretary-General that Kenya remained ready to help in any way it could.