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JOHANNESBURG, 11 FEBRUARY 2020 – The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (SEIFSA) extends its congratulations to South African Wamkele Mene, formerly of the Department of Trade and Industry, on his election yesterday to the crucial position of Secretary-General of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement.

SEIFSA Chief Executive Officer Kaizer Nyatsumba said he was confident that Mr Mene, who has represented South Africa in various international trade negotiations – including on the AfCFTA – and has attended the Southern African Metals and Engineering Indaba over the past few years to provide vital updates on developments on the AfCFTA,  would do an excellent job in his new position. Mr Nyatsumba has written to Mr Mene this morning to congratulate him and to wish him well with the job.

Mr Mene beat Nigeria’s Cecilia Akintomide, a former Vice-President and General Secretary of the African Development Bank, after seven rounds of voting by African Heads of State and Government yesterday evening.

SEIFSA Chief Economist Michael Ade said Mr Mene’s election places South Africa in a pole position to lead the largest free trade area in the world, with strategic benefits for local businesses, including those of the Metals and Engineering (M&E) sector.

The AfCFTA is the world’s largest free trade area, encompassing 55 countries and roughly 1.3 billion people, with a combined estimated GDP of 2.5 billion. The Agreement holds huge potential for South African companies, including those in the M&E sector, as it aims to promote trade-led economic growth for Africa’s entrepreneurs, industrialists, investors, innovators and service suppliers.

“It presents a unique opportunity for regional re-industrialization and should be utilized wisely by policy makers to provide leverage for local businesses. Importantly, the existing relationship with Mr Mene should be nurtured strategically to provide leverage for South Africa, which is the most industrialized country in Africa, with shared benefits for all African countries. South Africa cannot afford to miss the boat and score own goals on this one,” Dr Ade said.

The AfCFTA, which will be officially launched in July this year, is an auspicious initiative to double intra-regional trade –  which is roughly between 15% to 17%, with the exclusion of informal cross-border trade –  by 2022.

The Secretariat, which will be based in the Ghanaian capital of Accra, is expected to have a staff complement of 45-50 professional people, with no political appointees.

The AfCFTA is also accompanied by a range of other instruments aimed at integrating other aspects related to trade, such as a Pan-African Payments and Settlements Platform, an African passport, the Africa Trade Observatory – a mechanism to ensure effective monitoring and evaluation of trade –  and an Online Tariff Negotiation Portal. Amongst other responsibilities, the AfCFTA Secretariat will send notice of vital meetings and address complaints from member countries on cross-border trade matters such as tariffs and non-tariff barriers.

SEIFSA is a National Federation representing 21 independent employer Associations in the metals and engineering industries, with a combined membership of 1600 companies employing around 200 000 employees. The Federation was formed in 1943 and its member companies range from giant steel-making corporations to micro-enterprises employing fewer than 50 people.

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