Private sector essential to Africa’s US$ 2.7-trillion trade area ambition
The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) has urged captains of trade and industry in Africa to “own and drive the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA)” and not just support governments, but also hold them to account.
At a three-day Africa Prosperity Dialogues session, Stephen Karingi, Director of Regional Integration and Trade at the ECA said, “Africa’s private sector accounts for 80 percent of total production, two-thirds of investment, and three-quarters of credit, and employs 90 percent of the working-age population.”
ECA estimates that by 2045 intra-African trade in agri-food, industry, and services sectors will increase by nearly 35% compared to a situation without the AfCFTA.
But this depends on how comprehensively and effectively governments implement the Agreement, and the extent to which the private sector will seize opportunities linked to a large single market.
The role of the private sector was also echoed by the chairperson of the African Prosperity Network, Gabby Otchere-Darko, who stated “We (the private sector) should make the fulfilment of the promises of the AfCFTA “our agenda”.”
Ghana’s Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia said, “We have everything we need to transform Africa into a global powerhouse of the future,” and added “the AfCFTA has set the stage for Africa’s industrialisation.”
UN Assistant Secretary-General and Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa, Ahunna Eziakonwa, said “It is through the AfCFTA that we will industrialise” and create rather than “export African jobs. An Africa that produces its people’s needs is not just the Africa we want, it is the Africa we need.”
Karingi noted that the African private sector, of which 90% are SMEs, face challenges in conducting cross-border trade due to non-tariff barriers such as complex customs procedures, lack of access to finance, high costs of transportation and logistics, and lack of access to information, among others.
He cited inadequate infrastructure connectivity, rudimentary productive capacity, and risky or expensive payment systems as some of the barriers to trade, adding “the cost of doing business across African borders remains high, leading to the regrettable situation where African products are uncompetitive in African markets. “
Africa’s weak productive capacity and consequent excessive reliance on imports for essential products expose the continent to external shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war.
“When COVID struck, African countries were confronted with a lack of access to basic medical supplies because Africa imports over 90 percent of its supplies. When the Russia-Ukraine crisis dawned, several African countries faced a crisis of food security because wheat and corn exports from Russia and Ukraine were suspended,” said Karingi.
The AfCFTA is expected to integrate and consolidate Africa into a single US$ 2.7-trillion market by eliminating many of the barriers to trade present across the Continent. It provides the platform for Africa to diversify its economy and achieve resilience to natural and manmade shocks, including climate change.
Wamkele Mene, Secretary General of the AfCFTA Secretariat, posited that the ambition to integrate Africa dates back to the founding of the Organisation for African Unity (now the African Union). But the challenge now, he noted, is to “transform such ambition into action,” citing vaccine manufacturing in some African countries as one of the ways in which the continent is moving from ambition to action under the AfCFTA.
The maiden Africa Prosperity Dialogues is organised by the Africa Prosperity Network in collaboration with the ECA, the AfCFTA Secretariat, and the government of Ghana.