First AfCFTA Meeting of Directors General/Heads of Customs Authorities held in Accra

24 November 2020

At the invitation of His Excellency Wamkele Mene, Secretary General of the Permanent Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), WCO Secretary General Dr. Kunio Mikuriya participated in the first AfCFTA Meeting of African Directors General/Heads of Customs Administrations, held on 17 November 2020 in Accra, Ghana.

The Meeting was formally opened by the Guest of Honour, Mr. Patrick Nimo, Acting Chief Director of the Republic of Ghana’s Ministry of Trade and Industry, and by Colonel Kwadwo Damoah (Rtd), Commissioner of Customs, Ghana Revenue Authority who welcomed the participants. As host and Chair of the Meeting, Colonel Damoah recalled the historical background to regional integration in Africa, from the Abuja Treaty to the successful AfCFTA negotiations, and urged the Meeting to adopt concrete recommendations for the upcoming Extraordinary Summit of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government.

WCO Secretary General Dr. Mikuriya joined the Meeting via a platform to congratulate the Directors General of Customs who had convened physically and virtually. He said the WCO had been working with the African Union and its Customs Directors General/Heads of Member administrations in support of the AfCFTA, which represented the hope of the Continent in terms of bringing stability and prosperity. Noting that Customs must play a critical role in realizing this aspiration, the WCO Secretary General emphasized the need for strong political support for investing in Customs modernization, for developing a partnership approach with business and other government agencies, and for devoting resources to achieving a knowledgeable staff and professionalism, these being the prerequisites for Customs administrations to fulfill their tasks.

Dr. Mikuriya reaffirmed the WCO’s continued support for African Customs administrations and for the operationalization of the AfCFTA Agreement through the implementation of the WCO’s global standards, instruments and tools, involvement in its programmes, and cooperation relationships with the AfCFTA Secretariat. He went on to highlight the WCO’s ongoing support to African countries in the area of HS tariff classification, and provided updates on other recent developments including the WCO’s response to COVID-19 which was aimed at ensuring the smooth flow of essential goods while protecting society. Priority had also been given to the rise of e-commerce and to the need for the development of digitized infrastructure and technical competence. Secretary General Mikuriya concluded by expressing his appreciation of the opportunity to develop strengthened dialogue and cooperation with the AfCFTA Secretariat and its partners, in order to support Customs in Africa to enable the emergence of the single African market.

In his remarks, the Secretary General of the AfCFTA, H.E. Wamkele Mene, underscored the legal mandate of the Directors General/Heads of Customs Administrations Meeting under the Agreement, and outlined the objectives as being to hold deliberations on the operationalization of the Customs-related Annexes to the Protocol on Trade in Goods and other related provisions, as well as the activation of the working structures for the implementation of the AfCFTA, bearing in mind that trading under the Agreement would commence on 1 January 2021. He emphasized the need for tariff offers, progress on Rules of Origin, the coordination of border operations and the operationalization of the online system for addressing non-tariff barriers, which were pre-conditions for effective and commercially meaningful trading.

To conclude, Secretary General Mene stressed that the implementation of the AfCFTA would remain a work in progress, with periodic meetings to be intensified to address any outstanding and emerging issues. He then confirmed the readiness of the AfCFTA Secretariat to support the Member States in their preparations for, and effective use of the AfCFTA.

The Meeting went on to consider, for adoption, a number of recommendations from the First Meeting of the Committee on Trade in Goods and the Sub-committee on Trade Facilitation, Customs Cooperation and Transit. Endorsement of these recommendations would enable the establishment of Rules of Procedure and Terms of Reference for the Committee on Trade in Goods, and the operationalization of all the AfCFTA Customs-related provisions.