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Zambia Takes the Lead at AU-EU Agriculture Conference in Rome

Zambia’s Agriculture Minister, Reuben Phiri Mtolo, expressed his belief in the vast potential of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) during his role as Chair of the High-level thematic session on Regional Trade Integration at the 5th AU/EU Agriculture Ministerial Conference held in Rome. Mr. Mtolo highlighted the importance of trade in achieving food security and emphasized the need to facilitate the movement of food from surplus to deficit regions within Africa. He stated, “The AfCFTA presents an opportunity for Africa to use trade as a means of ensuring food security.”

Referring to the African Union’s theme of the year, “Accelerating Implementation of the AfCFTA,” Mr. Mtolo expressed the ambitious goals set for the African Union 2063 Agenda. The objective is to establish the world’s largest free trade area, uniting the 55 countries of the African Union (AU) with a population of approximately 1.3 billion people and a combined GDP of US$3.4 trillion. The AfCFTA aims to expand Africa’s economy to €27.1 trillion by 2050.

Recognizing Europe’s crucial role in supporting Africa’s regional integration, the Minister highlighted the potential for Europe to access the vast African market through the AfCFTA. Mr. Mtolo expressed his confidence that this would lead to increased trade and economic development.

However, Mr. Mtolo also acknowledged the challenges faced by Africa’s inadequate infrastructure, which hinders trade and investment. He pointed out the insufficiency of transportation and communication networks, including roads, railways, and ports, which cause logistical delays in the movement of goods and services. Urging the African Union to accelerate its infrastructure development program, he stressed the need to bridge this infrastructure gap.

Inclusive participation was another key point emphasized by Mr. Mtolo. He advocated for the involvement of key players such as smallholder farmers, women, and youth who stand to benefit from regional trade integration. Their inclusion is crucial for achieving sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

Concluding his remarks, Mr. Mtolo urged both AU and EU Member States to seize the opportunity for meaningful dialogue and explore innovative avenues to accelerate regional trade integration.

The conference witnessed the presence of 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).