By Natalie Nkembuh
“The first thing I would do is put a succession plan in place to remove all of the elderly executives who are in charge of the African Free Trade Agreement, and put people who are much younger and have a digital respect for how the world is going to be and the role digital’ will play in that. We are unlikely to fall prey to the ancient thinking of the diaper-wearing leadership who really do not understand the needs of the population of individuals who are half their age.” Statement by Viola A. Llewellyn on the way forward for the AFCFTA
The African continental Free Trade Area project is determined to continue its implementation moves even if a second wave of COVID-19 breaks out. The Secretary General, Wamkele Mene emphasized in a statement on Tuesday at the Bloomberg Invest Virtual Conference
“If the pandemic continues into 2021, we will develop the necessary public-health protocols to continue and to push on with the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area [agreement, AFCFTA],”
This is a determining step as the continent moves forward post-pandemic and will produce even greater results if certain key measures are taken into consideration to ensure the end results are economically felt. Speaking on the subject of the African Continental Free Area to Evolve, Viola A. Llewellyn emphasized the need for action towards ensuring the project has a good enough foundation to succeed. She reiterated:
“We are about to have a bulge bracket of the greatest 14-45 years old group of human beings the world has ever seen. We cannot continue to have them led by individuals who don’t even know how to switch on their cell phones. That is one thing that I will recommend in all honesty because at the end of the day it does come down to leadership.
We need to take a very hard look at how we harmonize business contracts, legal contracts, frameworks, policies, capital, foreign exchange and the rules by which goods and services move around when you can’t even get individuals to board a plane that goes directly to the country of their choice without them either having to leave the continent or fly over another one so that they can come backward. You’ve got simple issues such as electronic signatures on PDF which continue to be an issue because, as long as the individuals that are in charge continue to enjoy the confusion of paper work, it will continue to be difficult to have transparency, which is a prime directive of the African Free Trade Agreement.”
Then she added:
“We will also need to have hubs and incubators for products and services that are geared specifically to the goals of the Africa Free Trade Agreement, and they need to plan for the next 50 to 100 years versus just looking at now. This is going to be very important. We need cold storage transportation, we need trains, we need infrastructure and we need one of the most pressing things of all, electricity to run the entire plan. But if we do not have a leadership that understands that this is a great opportunity, and that we have to elevate all human beings on the continent so that they feel the democracy of access to opportunities, then we are just going to end up with another layer of gross confusion.
We cannot afford to miss this opportunity, we cannot afford to have another situation where people are waiting on supposedly well-intentioned NGOs coming to save us when our own diaspora are available to be tapped for the ideas, solutions and innovations that we need. If a country needs road built and they are able to call the Chinese for it, they can easily call a Nigerian, a Ghanaian and Kenyan to form a consortium together to do the exact same job. This has got to change otherwise the African Free Trade Agreement is going to just be another layer of lost opportunity with no trickle-down economics even though the digital elements are there to make all of this work.”
The agreement whichhas acquired the signatures of 54 of 55 member-states, bringing together an impressive domestic market of more than 1.2 billion people with a collective GDP of $2.6tn, entered into force legally in 2019 and was due to have started on July 1st. Just like every other institution/project around the world, it has been delayed as the pandemic set back negotiations to lay the foundation for trade in goods, including tariff concessions. This however might have delayed the implementation but will not stop it as more than ever, the secretariat is determined to push the project forward with or without COVID-19.
With a promising future for Africa’s hitherto outward looking economies, the AFCFTA will set Africa on another growth path for the years to come. In a bit to reiterate this, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda during the 10th Extraordinary Summit of the African Union which held in Kigali on the 21 March 2018 said:
“The promise of free trade and free movement is prosperity for all Africans, because we are prioritizing the production of value-added goods and services that are “Made in Africa”. The advantages we gain by creating one African market will also benefit our trading partners around the world, and that is a good thing. At the same time, we will be in a better position to leverage our growing strength and unity to secure Africa’s rightful interests in the international arena”
Achieving the Free Trade Area
According to studies carried out on the subject, tariff removals, supplemented by trade facilitation initiatives, could boost intra-African trade by 52.3% or $34.6bn by 2022. However, for this to happen, signatories must eliminate tariffs on 90% of goods and address a plethora of non-tariff barriers (NTBs), which will in turn tackle the comparatively high cost of trade across the continent. In fact, according to a study by UNCTAD and the World Bank NTBs prove more of an impediment to trade than tariffs do and by tackling NTBs, African countries as a group could see gains of $20bn each year.
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