Zambia’s Agriculture Minister, Reuben Phiri Mtolo, chaired the High-level thematic session on Regional Trade Integration at the 5th AU/EU Agriculture Ministerial Conference in Rome. In his remarks, Mr. Mtolo highlighted the immense potential of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) for economic transformation and food security across the African continent.
According to Mr. Mtolo, the AfCFTA offers Africa an opportunity to utilize trade as a means of ensuring food security by facilitating the movement of food from surplus regions to areas with deficits. He emphasized that the AU’s theme for the year, “Accelerating Implementation of the AfCFTA,” sets ambitious goals for Africa’s regional integration and aims to create the world’s largest free trade area, uniting 55 countries with a population of approximately 1.3 billion people and a combined GDP of US$3.4 trillion. The goal is to expand Africa’s economy up to €27.1 trillion by 2050.
Acknowledging the critical role of Europe in supporting Africa’s regional integration, Mr. Mtolo noted that the AfCFTA also presents an opportunity for Europe to access the vast African market. He expressed confidence that increased trade and economic development would result from this partnership.
However, Mr. Mtolo highlighted Africa’s infrastructure gap as a significant barrier to trade and investment. He emphasized the insufficiency of transportation and communication networks, including roads, railways, and ports, which contribute to logistical delays in the movement of goods and services. To overcome these challenges, Mr. Mtolo stressed the need for the African Union to accelerate its infrastructure development program.
Additionally, Mr. Mtolo underscored the importance of including key players such as smallholder farmers, women, and youth in regional trade integration efforts, ensuring that they benefit from the opportunities presented by the AfCFTA.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Mtolo urged both AU and EU member states to engage in meaningful dialogue and explore innovative avenues to accelerate regional trade integration. The conference brought together African and European Ministers of Agriculture, as well as Ambassadors accredited to Rome-based United Nations Agencies (FAO, WFP, and IFAD) and International Financial Institutions (IFIs).
By condensing the original press release, the news story highlights Zambia’s advocacy for agricultural trade integration and food security through the AfCFTA. It emphasizes the potential of the AfCFTA for economic development and the need for infrastructure development in Africa. The story concludes by stressing the importance of inclusive participation and meaningful dialogue between AU and EU member states to accelerate regional trade integration.