Free Trade Area remains Africa’s ambitious plan, even in the midst of COVID-19
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is still the agreement with great potential to foster regional economic integration and economic growth, and take Africa to the next level, even in the midst of a crippling coronavirus crisis, panellists on a COVID-19 Recovery Mechanism and AfCFTA webinar have agreed.
The panellists agreed the AfCFTA was a crucial move towards removing the continent’s heavy reliance on commodity and agricultural exports, leading to exponential growth in the manufacturing sector, export diversification and creation of quality jobs if its full potential to be transformational for all Africans is tapped.
Regional Integration Division Director at the Economic Commission for Africa, Mr Stephen Karingi, in his remarks said a lot of empirical work had been done by ECA showing what the AfCFTA means for Africa:
“One of the things we have been able to demonstrate empirically is that the AfCFTA has the potential to deepen not only the regional integration of the continent but also to allow us to do more value addition in our production processes.”
This, argued Mr Karingi, presents an opportunity not only to create economic resilience but also create quality and more valuable jobs compared to jobs that are not based on industry:
“We know what the AfCFTA means for this continent. COVID-19 has exposed that, had we implemented the AfCFTA earlier, we would be in a better position than we are now,”
before adding the ECA’s analytical work had been able to demonstrate the big role that services are going to play in terms of economic development.
The ECA Director said Africa should also discuss the use of digital services to deliver health services and education, as it talks about recovery and building resilience post COVID-19, adding e-commerce should be brought forward to Phase 11 negotiations of the AfCFTA.
For her part, Mama Keita, Director of the ECA’s Sub-Regional Office for East Africa, said in COVID-19 recovery, Africa should prioritise labour intensive sectors to preserve jobs and livelihoods. This includes the agricultural sector to ensure food security for the continent.
“Health and digital are indispensable sectors contributing to fix the health crisis so we should strengthen the health sector,” Ms Keita said, adding environmental sustainability was also important as well as climate friendly activities ‘as we build back better’.
She said understanding current and past macroeconomic frameworks and constraints of States was important for assessing the means available for a robust COVID-19 response and recovery plan, and that:
“The potential of the AfCFTA is undeniable. What is needed is commitment from everyone, including governments and the private sector.”
She said post COVID-19 there was a need to secure demand for local products; enhance productive capacities to supply goods and services needed; and promote strategic sectors, including promoting innovation and local manufacturing.
Panellists agreed chambers of commerce on the continent have a great role to play in facilitating trade and ensure African nations traded with each other.
Richard Ngatia, President of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI), said the AfCFTA was a monumental milestone on Africa’s developmental roadmap that must be exploited to the full for intra-Africa trade.
“It will unleash unlimited opportunities, new economies of scale, income and employment generation through greater market and economic integration,”
said Mr Ngatia, who moderated the discussion.
He said with COVID-19 having an immediate and significant impact on businesses in Africa, there was need for nations to identify opportunities for entrepreneurs with regard to the AfCFTA and put in place an economic recovery mechanism.
The webinar was organized by the KNCCI, in partnership with the ECA and the Great Lakes Region Private Sector Forum.
Learn More: UNECA
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