African Commission Pushes Nations to Join Single Market

 - February 12, 2019, 11:44 AM

The African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) on Monday called on African states to join the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), a year after its launch at the African Union heads of state summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.    

In an effort to liberalize the African air transport market by eliminating restrictive bilateral air service agreements, the African Union launched the SAATM in January 2018. Twenty-three member states of the AU signed on upon its launch.  

Appearing at the 32nd African Union Heads of State and Government Summit in Addis Ababa on February 10 to 11, representatives of AFCAC called on member states to join the SAATM and those who have signed the agreement to fully implement it.  

The champion state of the SAATM, Togo president Faure Gnassingbé, on Monday presented a progress report on its implementation. Gnassingbé, through his representative (the minister of foreign affairs of Togo), noted that five more states have joined the SAATM in the past year and that three more states have begun the process of joining.

Gnassingbé reported that of the 28 signatories, 16 states removed all market restrictions from air service agreements. He said nine states have held discussions to remove restrictive bilateral provisions. “This is the first of its kind and it is a great achievement,” he said.

According to Gnassingbé, the AU did not clearly state the single market’s lead institution, resulting in duplication of effort by various organs. He pointed out that the executive agency of the SAATM—AFCACwould serve as the lead organization. However, he added that AFCAC's failure to appoint a secretary general for quite some time contributed to the delay in its implementation. “Now that AFCAC has recruited a new secretary general and the commission secured funds from the African Development Bank (AfDB), it is empowered to fully ‘operationalize’ its activity,” he said.

The AfDB has earmarked $4.7 million to support AFCAC’s effort to implement the SAATM. The European Union has also allocated a €1 million to support AFCAC’s initiative. 

Tefera Mekonnen, the new secretary general of AFCAC, told AIN that some member states of the AU have shown reluctance to join due to lack of awareness on the benefits of air transport market liberalization. “Some states fear that they would lose their national carriers if they liberalize their markets,” he said. “But a number of African states have already opened their skies to non-African carriers while they are denying traffic rights to African airlines...Some African airlines advise their states not to sign SAATM because they fear that they would lose their market share.”    

Mekonnen said that AFCAC is working on an awareness program on the socio-economic benefits of a single market. “We have published documents on competition rules, dispute settlement, and institutional framework and we are planning to organize sensitization workshops in each regional economic communities,” he said.