African business forum told AfCFTA will boost production, job creation

Kigali, Rwanda (PANA) - The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will help African businesses benefit from economies of scale, and create supply chains that will allow the continent to reduce its import bills, especially for industrial inputs, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Vera Songwe, said here on Tuesday.

Speaking at the AfCFTA Business Forum, held on the eve of the historical signing of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement by African Union (AU) Heads of State and Government, Songwe said the key to creating an effective free trade area in Africa is to increase production and to tap on the huge opportunities offered by the continental market.

According to her, the pact will attest a substantial change in paradigm on the continent, meaning that “Africa can employ its youth and young women”.

The ECA chief told the Forum participants that the Continental Free Trade Area will create many trade opportunities in industrial products, rather than the commodities on which Africa’s economies have become too dependent.

Intra-African trade in manufacturing goods has already reached 60% for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, she said, showing that similar progress can be achieved in other regions. “Currently, tariff and non-tariff barriers are major impediments to the development of intra-African trade,” she added.

In a keynote address to the Forum, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who is also current Chairperson of the AU, underlined the private sector involvement to ensure success of the AfCFTA.

“Profit and power are not an end in themselves, they are a tool for creating prosperity for every African,” he said, appealing to Member States to commit themselves to implement other AU flagship projects under the Agenda 2063.

Organized by the African Union Commission, the AfCFTA Business Forum brought together African leaders, business interests, policymakers and civil society from across the continent to map out a strategy for broad engagement in the AfCFTA and the vision of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 for continental integration.

President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, who is the AU Champion for the AfCFTA was among the participants.

The All-Africa free trade deal must be backed with concrete actions, UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi told the Forum, urging Member States to prioritize collective action for African integration rather than focusing on bilateral free trade agreements outside the continent.

“Political declarations must be matched with concrete actions,” he said. “There are sometimes political statements of solidarity which are not matched by concrete action.”

Dr. Kituyi said that political transparency was needed to “shatter myths” about free trade in Africa, especially at a time of “rising protectionism” in the global trade environment and “major threats to rules-based multilateralism”.

A former trade minister in Kenya,  Kituyi brought his personal reflections to the debate. “I had the privilege to be a trade minister negotiating free trade agreements before, and one of the main problems we found was government officers at borders pretending they don’t know the rules,” he recalled.

“They will just tell you ‘We don’t know if you are allowed to bring this in’. And they stop your truck at the border for three weeks, pretending they don’t know! So, argumentum ad ignorantiam becomes just an excuse to slow down African integration.”

The AfCFTA will create a trade bloc of 1.2 billion people with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of more than US$2 trillion. The agreement commits countries to removing tariffs on 90% of goods and to liberalize services.
-0- PANA AR 20March2018

20 march 2018 18:23:16

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