The 19th African Union (AU) Summit will kick off tomorrow in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa at the level of heads of state and governments under the theme "Strengthening intra-African trade". The "Action Plan for Boosting Intra-African Trade" discussed at the AU 18th summit, held in January 2012, aims to deepen Africa’s market integration and to increase the volume of trade that African countries undertake among themselves, by identifying key obstacles and outlining strategies to address these constraints. The Action Plan also includes proposals to speed up progress towards the creation of a Pan-African Free Trade Area by 2017 and a mechanism to monitor market integration has been the presidential summit a number of events on the sidelines of the current session. Ahead of the 19th African Union Summit the executive council of the African Union began meeting at its 21st Ordinary Session Thursday to discuss issues on its agenda in preparation of the 19th Ordinary Session of the AU's Assembly, media sources said Among other matters, the council, composed of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the African Union and government officials representing their countries, looked into the election of the leadership of the AU Commission, adopt the 2013 budget, examine sources of alternative funding for AU activities and consider the state of security on the continent. Addressing the Council, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr. Jean Ping stressed that the escalation of tension between Sudan and Southern Sudan, the mutiny in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the unconstitutional changes of government in Mali and Guinea Bissau have all been of great concern to the Commission. Dr. Ping welcomed the progress achieved through the democratic elections in Senegal and Lesotho, as well as the activities of the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). According to the AUC Chairperson, the operationalisation of the African Standby Force (ASF) will reinforce the peace and security architecture of the continent, and the strategic partnership with the UN system. "This will generate greater policy and strategic coherence in our approach when addressing the issue of peace and security on the continent," he noted. The period under review was marked by institutional crises but this has not stopped the Commission from pursuing other priorities. Chairperson Ping cited as an example, the implementation of the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) through a roadmap and Priority Action Plan for 2020. In the area of education, the Chairperson announced the launch in September this year, of courses in three of the five thematic Pan African University campuses situated in Nigeria, Cameroon and Kenya while the fourth university located in Algeria will welcome its first students in 2013. Meanwhile Dr. Ping underlined said that the Commission has continued its efforts to strengthen the position and interests of Africa in the international arena and has consolidated strategic partnerships with a view to enhance the development of the continent. Many crucial activities to fulfil the vision of the AU are being implemented, such as the theme of the summit "Promoting intra-African trade" and the efforts aimed at establishing a continental free trade area by 2017. He reminded the Council of the "necessity to find a lasting solution to the problem of funding of the African Union and its activities. This, he said, will help enhance the sustainability of the actions of the organisation, asserting the credibility of the leadership and the African ownership of its initiatives. On the other hand, Mr. Abdoulie Janneh, the Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) pointed out that peace, security and stability are necessary ingredients for the boosting of a continental free trade zone. He said Africa has all the assets to be successful, stressing that the manufactured goods in Africa already account for 46% of intra-African trade and that the infrastructure is of a higher standard than that of some regional sectors such as Mercosur, an economic and political agreement among three South American states. Nassirou Arifari-Bako, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Benin and Chairperson of the Executive Council in his speech, emphasized the discomfort caused by the postponement of the election of the members of the Commission last January. This situation, he said, hinders the smooth functioning of the Commission and jeopardizes the credibility of the Union. Speaking on the theme of the Summit, Mr. Arifari-Bako, said: "If development depends largely on stability, it is also dependent on the economic integration of Africa, thus the need for alternative sources of financing". The opening ceremony of the Executive Council was marked by a moment of silence in memory of the late Dr. Archigramm Bingu Wa Mutharika, President of the Republic of Malawi, and Mr. Ahmed Ben Bella, first President of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria. The 21st Ordinary Session of the Executive Council ended Friday. Its report will be submitted to the 19th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU for adoption. Meanwhile AU commissioner for rural economy and agriculture Rhoda Tumusiime said Africa needs to be abreast of climate change issues in order for the continent to excel in agriculture and improve food security. Addressing a media briefing on the sidelines of the AU 19th Summit she said the continent needed to be updated on climate change and its implications. Ms Tumusiime however said since 2009 Africa had been engaged in climate change negotiations through common positions using a single voice. "As in climate change negotiations, Africa has also begun speaking with one voice and at the recently held United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development dubbed the RIO+ 20 meeting Africa was not only appreciated but its leaders also articulated more on the issue," she said. She said the AU was aware that not all Africa’s expectations were met at the Rio + 20 meeting and it was important for the union to continue to galvanise greater global support to ensure that Africa’s specific needs on climate change were met in future negotiations. She was quoted by the Times of Zambia as saying that the AU had been actively engaged in providing the much needed co-ordination on climate change negotiations. She said the continental body had developed a climate change strategy for Africa that was currently being reviewed by the Bureau of African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN). Ms Tumusiime said although Africa was endowed with unparalleled natural resources it had been plagued by persistent poverty. The AU considered sustainable development as critical which leaders had pledged commitment and agreed to form partnerships. She said 30 African countries had signed for the implementation of the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) that was aimed at improving human dignity through the provision of food and ensuring nutrition security. Ms Tumusiime said through the CAADP the AU had been mobilizing for increased funding through implementation of the decision to allocate at least 10 per cent of national budgets to agriculture and that a number of member states had so far increased their allocations to the sector. The continent was further encouraged that world leaders through the G8 and G20 had pledged more support to agriculture, food and nutrition security while the G8 had endorsed the creation of a global alliance for food and nutrition security to which Africa had subscribed.