On May 11, 2023, Invest Africa organised the Africa Debate aimed at catalysing Africa’s trade potential.
Held at Guildhall, London in the United Kingdom, the Africa Debate was a powerful forum for connecting Africa and the rest of the world on the need for more engaged conversations about the continent’s trade.
Despite ongoing global uncertainty, Africa finds itself more resilient to trade and external shocks than ever before, with African countries aligning trade and investment policies behind the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
It is in this regard that the Africa Debate 2023 brought together leaders from across the continent to discuss the future of African trade and how the private sector could best support and prepare for a more integrated – and more competitive – African trade environment.
The guest of honour was Zambia’s President Hakainde Hichilema who challenged African countries to increase trade among themselves.
Mr Hichilema bemoaned the percentage of trade among African countries, a paltry 17 percent, which, he said, was extremely low hence the need for more increased trade.
The head of State cited the rigidities hindering intra-Africa trade that needed to be addressed in order for the economies to grow.
True to Mr Hichilema’s words, free movement of goods on the continent is still a big problem.
Currently, only three countries- Benin, The Gambia and Seychelles-offer visa-free entry to all African nationals and no countries offer employment or residency rights for all Africans.
Apart from Mr Hichilema, some of the speakers at the African Debate were AfCFTA digital trade expert and Global Policy House co-founder Michelle Chivunga, AfCFTA secretary general Wamkele Mene, Emerging Markets EMEA YouTube managing director Alex Okosi, COP28 UAE head of private sector engagement Hanan Sakr, President Em and Group managing director AdmassuTadesse.
Like Mr Hichilema, they all highlighted the benefits of trade within the AfCFTA region.
It is an upon secret that to grow a stronger business environment and create decent jobs for Zambia and other member states on the entire African continent, implementation of the AfCFTA agreement is essential.
Boosting intra-Africa trade will contribute to Africa’s economic recovery.
Africa needs to trade with Africa in order to increase competitiveness in terms of global trade.
AfCFTA is a free trade establishment encompassing most of Africa.
It was established in 2018 by the AfCFTA agreement.
The AFCFTA has 43 parties and another 11 signatories, making it the largest free trade area by the number of member states after the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The AfCFTA is the largest in population and geopolitical size.
It has over 1.3 billion people across the world’s second largest continent.
The agreement founding AfCFTA was brokered by the African Union (AU) and signed by 44 of its 55 member states in Kigali, Rwanda in March 2018.
The long-term objectives include creating a single, liberalised market, reducing barriers to capital and labour to facilitate investment, developing regional infrastructure and establishing a continental customs union.
The other overall aims of AFCFTA are to increase social economic development, reduce poverty and make Africa more competitive in the global economy.
Last year, it was estimated that AfCFTA was going to boost intra- Africa trade by 52 per cent by the end of 2022.
Additionally, a report by the World Bank also anticipates that AFCFTA could lift 30 million Africans out of extreme poverty and boost incomes of nearly 70 million people on the continent.
In his update on the implementation report of the AFCFTA during the 2022 fourth Mid-Year Coordination Meeting (MYCM) in Lusaka, AU champion on continental free trade area issues Mahamadou Issoufou highlighted the status of continental integration and coordinated efforts to accelerate the process.
Giving an update on the AFCTA implementations, Mr Issoufou said there has been a ‘steady development’ regarding the ratification of the AFCFTA agreement.
While the signature of the AfCFTA agreement remains at 54 AU member states, with Eritrea the only country to sign, the number of ratifications has increased from 39 deposits to 43 since October 2021.
From the regional economic community perspective, the remaining 12 countries to join the AFCFTA family are four countries, namelySomalia, South Sudan and Eritrea and four countries from SADC whichare Botswana, Comoros, Madagascar and Mozambique.
No one is in doubt that a vibrant manufacturing sector is crucial to transforming African economies, achieving sustained growth, creating more jobs and achieving prosperity.
But to get there, several major hurdles in implementing the AFCFTA deal need to be overcome as Africa’s trade seems to be at a cross roads.
Bigger economies such as Nigeria and South Africa should also take centre stage in embracing intra-Africa trade.
All things being equal, AfCFTA is a platform that can help enhance intra-Africa trade in terms of acting as a common market and a one-stop border post for goods and services on the African continent.