COVID-19 presents an opportunity for African countries to accelerate the shift towards a single market and for the continent to make a paradigm shift to be able to fend for itself and reduce its dependence on food imports.
One of the principal objectives of the AfCFTA is to expand intra-African trade, improving the flow of goods and services across countries and boosting economic growth through increased agro-processing and a strategy of diversification and industrialization.
It goes without saying that Africa is a net importer of food, with staple foods such as wheat, rice and maize being some of the largest imports. Africa’s agricultural exports comprise mostly cash crops like cocoa, coffee and spices, which have relatively limited markets in Africa, while basic food products are imported, indicating the need to prioritise a more diverse trade basket of goods.
Lowering intra-regional import tariffs facilitates the movement of agricultural products that will help address the immediate concern around the possibility of low food supplies and general food insecurity, while laying the foundation for long-term policies.
It is essential to remove non-tariff barriers like transport and logistics bottlenecks, which have long been a deterrent for the efficient movement of goods and services between African countries. The outbreak of COVID-19 is threatening to affect the entire food system, especially in Africa and hence it is imperative for African countries to accelerate the shift towards an effective AfCFTA implementation.
Commodity exporting African countries like ours are the hardest hit and the lessons taught by the outbreak of this pandemic should prompt a more decisive determination to create a single market. As Ghana gradually eases its COVID-19 restrictions, and other African countries follow, the urge to make this all-important paradigm shift towards a single market will be heightened.
AfCFTA is a lifeline for Africa and the sooner we recognize it, the better our future prospects will be. It cannot therefore be a fluke that almost all Africa’s 54 states have signed onto the deal.