By Busisani Ncube
African trade experts have called for swift implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) as a strategy to lifting the continent out of an economic downturn caused by Covid-19.
The pandemic had, for the first time in 25 years, caused a contraction of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of between two to five percent in sub-Saharan Africa, said Mr Wamkele Mene, the AfCFTA secretary-general while speaking at a recent trade forum in Dakar, Senegal.
“This decline will manifest itself in reduced exports and loss of employment, among other challenges,” he said.
“However, it is projected that the implementation of the AfCFTA will boost intra-Africa trade by $35 to billion, increase value-chain development across all sectors, enhance the competitiveness of industry and reduce the trade deficit by 50 percent.”
Ms Dorothy Tembo, the deputy director of the International Trade Centre (ITC), a joint agency of the World Trade Organization and the United Nations, said “the continent must work toward operating as one trade bloc by 1 January 2021”.
She said the ITC was fully engaged in helping the African private sector to convert opportunities offered by the AfCFTA, which is now due for full implementation in january next year, into concrete business transactions. Ms Tembo also announced the launch of “One Trade Africa”, anew ITC programme to unlock the full business potential of the AfCFTA targeted at micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.
“The AfCFTA must be an engine for growth as much as an engine for inclusion. This is also about leaving no one behind and fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030,” said Ms Tembo.
Like any regional integration process in the world, she said it takes time to design the conducive ecosystem, adjust and strengthen institutions, build the right trade infrastructures and empower the citizens to play an active role and access opportunities offered by the single trade area. Mr Mene said the AfCFTA was working with partners to develop a vibrant programme for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with a particular focus on women and youth. Estimates indicate that informal traders and SMEs undertake 30 to 40 percent of cross-border trade in Africa. Sharing a similar perspective, Mr Samba Ndao, secretary general of Senegal’s Ministry of Trade, Small and Medium Enterprises said the AfCFTA was an instrument of regional integration, a ramp towards constructive globalisation and inclusive economic and social development.
Also speaking at the forum, Amaury Hoste, European Union delegation team leader said their bloc was a brainchild of regional integration, and believes that SMEs can do much if the environment is favourable.