Delegates pose for a group photo after the opening session of the Executive Council of Ministers of African Union meeting in Kigali. Timothy Kisambira.

The UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) on Tuesday urged African countries to invest more in the blue economy so as to capitalize on the potential of the imminent African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The ECA also reiterated its “availability and commitment” to work with African countries and pan-African institutions to develop the continent’s blue economy, the commission said in a statement.

According to the ECA, the blue economy “can play a major role in Africa’s structural transformation via the sustainable use, management and conservation of aquatic and marine ecosystems and associated resources and an optimal linkage of these with other sectors.”

It also stressed that African countries “can take advantage to cash in on the AfCFTA through shipping and offshore free-trade zones, eco-tourism and biodiversity, fossil and renewable marine energy, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries, genetic resources and marine products more generally.”

The ECA said it is ready to support African countries in the development of the nexus between the blue economy and free trade pact.

Antonio Pedro, ECA’s director of the Sub-regional Office for Central Africa, urged countries with resources in the sector, such as Mauritius, Sao Tome and Principe, and Seychelles, to capitalize on the opportunities offered by the AfCFTA, which is expected to officially enter into force at an extraordinary summit of African heads of state and government slated for July 7, 2019.

Last week, the African Union (AU) set a one-month timeframe to activate the AfCFTA on May 30 as Sierra Leone and the Saharawi Republic deposited their instruments of ratification with the AU Commission earlier this month.

“The two deposits meet the minimum threshold of ratifications required under Article 23 of the AfCFTA Agreement for it to enter into force 30 days after the deposit of the 22nd deposit, which is made by the Saharawi Republic,” the AU said in statement last Wednesday.

According to the ECA, focused investments to build the blue economy industry, improvements in quality assurance and standardization, more depth in the value chain, and the alignment of youth training policy with the national development needs are important for AU member countries as the free trade pact edges closer to take effect.

Pedro, the ECA sub-regional director, said the commission stands ready to support African countries with “huge potential” in the blue economy to benefit from the sector by capitalizing on the free trade pact.

“ECA would be available to facilitate the sharing of experiences and the signing of South-South partnerships with other countries having the characteristics of Mauritius, Seychelles and Sao Tome and Principe, which are leading in rolling out the Blue Economy strategies of the African Union,” an ECA statement quoted Pedro as saying on Monday.

The ECA, in a policy handbook published in 2016, described the blue economy as “the resources of the aquatic and marine ecosystems including oceans, seas, coasts, lakes, rivers, and underground water linked to productive sectors such as fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, transport, shipbuilding, energy production, bio-prospecting, and underwater mining and related activities.”

The AfCFTA, which was signed by 44 African countries when it was launched in Kigali, capital of Rwanda, in March 2018, aspires to create a tariff-free continent that can grow local businesses, boost intra-African trade, spur industrialization and create more jobs.

Regarded as the world’s largest free trade zone by the number of countries, the AfCFTA covers more than 1.2 billion people, with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of 2.5 trillion U.S. dollars. Enditem

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