"I made this proposal to the ministers of Commerce: if we want to get out of this crisis, this crisis of food insecurity, let us immediately reduce customs duties to zero. Zero tax, quota-free trade. (...) Free trade in basic agricultural products, including cereals", Wamkele Mene told Lusa.
The decision is in the hands of the Council of Trade Ministers of the African Union, but Mene defends that this is "a very important step that should be taken to improve food security in Africa".
In a press conference on the sidelines of the first Afro-Caribbean trade and investment forum, Mene recalled that the African continent is a net importer of food and was already so before the war in Ukraine.
"What [the war] has shown is that once again we have to accelerate the self-sufficiency of the African continent," said the secretary general of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
To combat African dependence on cereal imports, namely Russian and Ukrainian ones, Mene defended that there are a series of measures to be taken, starting with reducing customs fees for trade in agricultural products on the continent.
A second measure is to study the ability to export cereals from African countries to other states on the continent.
"For example, Zimbabwe has more than 200 million dollars of excess capacity in cereals that could be exported to the rest of the continent (...). I see no reason why, in four or five years, Zimbabwe cannot be a net exporter of cereals on the continent", he said, also referring to other countries such as Malawi, Zambia, Uganda or Ethiopia.
Emphasizing that these countries have export capacity, Mene highlighted that it is necessary to ensure that there is investment in technology and in the necessary facilities to store and export cereals and that the rules that are being designed for the trade of agricultural products within Africa are supported by these interventions.
The invasion of Ukraine by Russia, two of the world's largest grain exporters, has contributed to worsening food shortages in the world's poorest regions, some of which, like the Horn of Africa, are already experiencing severe hunger and malnutrition.
Despite efforts to resume deliveries of Ukrainian grain across the Black Sea, since the beginning of the year there has been a 46 percent drop in exports of these goods, according to the International Red Cross.