Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to be with you and I welcome all the representatives of the African Regional Economic Communities to this briefing today.
Over recent decades, Africa has achieved significant progress thanks to the leadership of its Governments, the African Union, the Regional Economic Communities, civil society organisations, the private sector and many other partners.
We have seen advances in reducing poverty, economies have diversified and the middle class is growing.
More children – and especially girls -- are in primary school, and child and maternal deaths are down.
More women are serving in Parliaments and African countries are focusing greater attention on prevention.
Africa has also set forth an ambitious vision in the African Union Agenda 2063, which aspires to achieve “an integrated continent, politically united and based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the vision of Africa’s renaissance”.
This ambitious vision has been driven forward by Africa’s development program – NEPAD alongside pivotal regional and sub-regional institutions, including the Regional Economic Communities, which have been a driving force both for economic integration and peace and security on the continent.
We are delighted that Agenda 2063 has been developed and is aligned closely to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Implementing these agendas depends in large part on the success of Africa’s Regional Economic Communities as the key building blocks of the African Union.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is important that Africa can play a full part in today’s globalized world.
This means fair trade opportunities and better access to markets.
It means access to more resources and financing for development and climate action.
It means unlocking the opportunities of innovative finance and private investment.
And it means that donors must uphold their commitments to Official Development Assistance
But it also means South-South Cooperation.
Which brings me to the theme of today’s event -- Africa’s regional and economic integration.
We know open and competitive markets can enhance sustainable economic growth and alleviate poverty in Africa.
Individually, African Member States represent relatively small markets with limited opportunities for growth and market-based competition.
But collectively, the continent’s large and growing population represents enormous market potential, especially with growing urbanization contributing to rapid growth in consumption by households and businesses.
Yet, despite this potential, intra-African trade represents only about 13 per cent of Africa’s total trade.
By building on this market potential, and promoting regional integration, African countries could reduce their dependency on the sale of primary commodities, and shift to value added products -- creating employment, reducing inequalities, investing in sustainable infrastructure and ensuring sustainable economic growth.
This could also make Africa a much more powerful player in the global economy.
This is the vision enshrined in Agenda 2063.
Establishing a Continental Free Trade Area, as agreed by the African Union in 2012, would be a major step in the right direction.
Once established, it would be the largest free trade area in the world with 54 member states – a single market of over 1 billion people with a young and growing population.
It will boost intra-African trade, help African economies growth faster and more sustainably and provide much-needed opportunity for the continent’s young people.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Africa has the fastest growing youth population in the world.
Sixty per cent of its population is under the age of 24.
This youth bulge represents an important opportunity for sustainable development in Africa.
But Africa’s demographic dividend is not a given.
Properly harnessed, it can deliver a demographic dividend and sustain inclusive growth.
But, without the proper attention, it could also pose a serious risk.
Harnessing their capacity requires greater investments in education, especially in science and technology, to ensure a robust labour force capable of meeting the increasingly competitive demands of today’s globalized markets.
If decent jobs cannot be created at a sufficient pace to accommodate tens of millions of newcomers to the job market every year, we risk the Continent’s youth being left behind.
That is why the African Union has chosen “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investments in Youth” as its theme for this year.
It is also why the AU summit declared 2018-2027 as the “African Decade for Technical, Professional and Entrepreneurial Training and Youth Employment”.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We often refer to Africa as a continent with immense resources.
None are more valuable than its human resources.
Africa’s youth can play a major role in the continent’s prosperity and development if they are equipped with the necessary skills through quality education and vocational training, coupled with capacity building and technology transfer.
Harnessing innovation and technology to develop new solutions to accelerate progress in Africa is essential.
We could start unlocking this potential by bridging the gap between formal education curricula and existing economic realities and the demands of African economies.
By the time a young person graduates from school, we must make sure he or she has the skills required in today’s rapidly evolving job markets.
Let us also help unleashed their entrepreneurial potential to make them job creators not just job seekers.
Young people must also be given opportunities to freely travel the continent to benefit from both job and education opportunities.
This could not only open up young minds to entrepreneurial opportunities, but also foster cultural awareness and the solidarity needed to create an integrated and harmonious Africa.
Success stories elsewhere should encourage us.
Today, regional blocks in South and Central America, Southeast Asia and China play a major role in global economy.
For instance, the ASEAN Free Trade Area was established in 1992 to eliminate trade and non-trade barriers and improve the Southeast Asia’s competitiveness.
Consequently, intra-ASEAN trade more than doubled between 1995 and 2010, and kept increasing to reach around 24 per cent of global trade last year – and 40 per cent if trade with China is included).
We can achieve the same success in Africa.
And, there is no better place than starting with the youth, and especially young women.
We must empower Africa’s women and girls.
Gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa tens of billions a year.
This is an enormous and needless loss of potential and economic growth.
We need to truly integrate women into Africa’s economies using existing women’s funds and platforms.
An inclusive and integrated Africa will be a prosperous and vibrant Africa.
In the same vein, we must promote the continent’s integration.
Continental growth corridors, industrial development policies and cross-border infrastructure investments could provide youth with decent jobs and integrate them into global value chains.
And, the flagship projects of Agenda 2063, including a Continental Free Trade Area, the creation of an African virtual and e-university; the African passport and the free movement of people; and the Pan-African e-network can empower African youth to realize Africa’s transformative vision, as encapsulated in Agenda 2063.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The transformative changes envisaged in Agenda 2063 can only be realized if they are forged around stronger regional integration.
Today’s meeting provides an opportunity for you as Regional Economic Communities to tell us how you are contributing to the joint implementation of Agenda 2063 and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and how the United Nations can better support your efforts.
I look forward to hearing from all our distinguished experts on how the United Nations system can enhance its cooperation with the Regional Economic Communities and their Member States.
Together, we have embarked on a renewed partnership between the UN and the AU for the next ten years.
Our partnership encompasses the Partnership on Africa’s Integration and Development Agenda, the joint UN-AU framework for enhanced partnership in peace and security signed earlier this year and the forthcoming UN-AU joint framework on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063.
Through these collaborations, we will combine our ambitions for sustainable development, economic integration, peace and security, women’s empowerment and investment in young people in Africa.
Working hand-in-hand with Africa will also benefit the world as a whole, advancing common global goals for peace, sustainable development, human rights and human dignity.
Excellencies, Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen,
It is our duty, as highlighted by Agenda 2063, to leave behind “an integrated, united, peaceful, sovereign, independent, confident and self-reliant continent” for the next generations.
You can rest assured of the strong support and commitment of the United Nations to help realize Africa’s transformative vision and Pan-African aspirations, as encapsulated by Agenda 2063.