Africa Countries Should Walk the Talk on Continental Integration

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Bereket Sisay 

The 5th Mid-Year Coordination Meeting of the African Union, Regional Economic Communities and Regional Mechanisms, held in Nairobi from 13 to 16 July, adopted a resolution aimed at accelerating the continent's integration, both politically and economically. In particular, due emphasis was placed on advancing the implementation of the African Union's long-awaited flagship project - the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) - which is crucial to achieving continental economic integration. 

With the entry into force of the AfCFTA in 2019, implementation has begun and member states have also commenced trade under the new AfCFTA initiatives. However, the implementation of the trade bloc has lagged behind, despite high expectations, due to the pandemic that rocked the entire continent, as well as the lack of agreement among African countries on the rules of engagement for some product lines and delays in ratification among member states.

Nevertheless, a handful of countries that have met the legal criteria necessary to join the platform have already begun trading with each other on a wide range of goods, from agricultural products to manufactured goods. So far, countries such as Kenya, Rwanda and Ghana, Cameroon, Egypt, Mauritius, Tanzania and Tunisia have started trade under the African Free Trade Area. As part of this move, Cameroon and Tunisia started trading with each other just on Monday. This indicates that the implementation of the Free Trade Area is well on its way, but the pace needs to be accelerated to achieve Agenda 2063 Goal 1: A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development. The AfCFTA could boost intra-African trade by around 33% and reduce the continent's trade deficit by 51%, according to official AU data, which shows that intra-African trade is currently low at just 14.4% of total African exports. 

Yet, a slew of challenges still on the way for full implementation of the initiative that need to be addressed as quickly as possible. Particularly, creating conducive environment for facilitating intra-Africa trade such as expanding infrastructural development and furthering other equally compelling facilities is a primary task. Africa has a huge bottleneck in terms of having critical infrastructure that ease business doing and potentially improve people’s lives.  Deficiencies in transport connectivity infrastructure, particularly, cross-border road connectivity led to low level of trade among Africa countries. Therefore, African countries should increase investment in road infrastructure to develop intra-African trade facilities, including technological infrastructure. 

Air connectivity also needs to be improved as this mode of transportation is very fast and can handle large amounts of cargo at a time. In addition, the technological capacity of African member countries needs to be developed, starting with the expansion of Internet services, which could potentially facilitate e-commerce activities on the continent. 

To facilitate business and trade exchange in Africa, there are many infrastructure facilities that need to be put in order and therefore countries should mobilize their resources for infrastructure projects as it is capital intensive. In 2022, the African Development Bank report shows that Africa's infrastructure investment gap is estimated at more than $100 billion per year, affecting the living conditions of Africans and the continent's global competitiveness. Without the necessary infrastructure, Africa's free trade agreements will never be successful. In line with this, African countries need to remove all tariff-related barriers that can be an obstacle to realizing this grand agenda of trade connectivity. Non-tariff barriers such as lack of commitment to implement mutually agreed trade facilitation measures and lack of coordination and harmonization of trade activities are also hindering the integration process and these challenges need to be addressed as soon as possible.  The political will of Member States to pursue and conclude the ongoing trade negotiations is of paramount importance in this regard.

One of the major problems that has greatly affected the African business environment is the quality of products and this has forced African citizens to depend on import markets from other continents for so long.  Moreover, there is a lack of production output from the manufacturing sectors as well as most of the traded items on the continent are agricultural products.  Therefore, along with a gradual shift towards industrial products and meeting the large market demands of African citizens through bulky manufacturing outputs, quality products need to be given due emphasis. Quality problem is an elephant in the house issue for Africa business and can't be hash up this challenge by various reason, the only solution is to act on it in unison. 

In addition, African countries need to abolish visa requirements for African citizens to create a free movement of people that would potentially increase connectivity. The ideal of free movement of people, which began with the creation of the OAU and has evolved over time as a major agenda on the continent, but concrete progress has been registered on this frontier. Until the people of Africa can freely interact with each other and start being treated as people of the same continent, the integration activities can't go through a smooth process.  Some countries have started to issue visas on arrival, while others allow African citizens to inter into their country without having a visa.  This is an important step towards achieving integration and needs to be further strengthened in the future. 

In a nutshell, the African Free Trade Area has great potential to create new market opportunities for African small and medium enterprises, which will directly contribute to the creation of employment opportunities that would potentially improve people's lives. Thus, its implementation has now begun at infancy stages and need to be fast-tracked  as the continent's other goals depend on it and the success over free trade will serve as a spring board to further push other successful story on the continent. Therefore, member countries should be fully committed politically and needs to push forward the implementation of the initiative as quickly as possible, otherwise delaying the implementation of the AfCFTA is a recipe for failure once again for the future of the continent. African countries has many times vowed for the African noble cause of integration and now is the time to walk the talk and realize this nobel agenda of the  continent.

 

 

 

 

Ethiopian News Agency
2023