Isaac Yaw Obeng’s thoughts … Expedite action on national AfCFTA Implementation Strategy

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“Move fast. Speed is one of your main advantages over large competitors.” Sam Altman

Ghana has signed and ratified the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, indicating a high political will toward the Agreement. This is evident in how the country pushed hard to win the race for hosting the AfCFTA Secretariat. Additionally, technical working groups have been formed as part of efforts and commitment to help realise the Agreement’s objectives and ensure Ghana obtains utmost benefit from the same.

Empirical evidences have posited that there are positive gains in joining the AfCFTA.  However, the benefits derived from the Agreement depend on (a) having a national strategy; (b) the design of the strategy; (c) how fast the national strategy is developed; and (d) implementation of the national strategy.

Having a national AfCFTA strategy

It is an undeniable fact that for any state party to benefit from the Agreement, there is need for a national strategy. This provides systematic, uncut, inclusive processes toward measures for ensuring AfCFTA implementation. The national strategy enables the country to identify sectors where it has a comparative advantage, major trade opportunities, extant constraints and auxiliary measures needed to take absolute advantage of the Agreement.

Currently, Ghana has not turned out a national strategy despite the fact that a technical committee has been formed. Meanwhile, trading under the Agreement was supposed to have started on 1st July 2020 – but thishas been deferred due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This implies that had trading activities commenced at the planned date, the country would have lagged behind even if a strategy was developed before the set date – the reason being that design and development of a strategy takes time before it matures and becomes operational, along with how effectively it is implemented.

Per the information available (see: AfCFTA Year Zero Report), not a single member-country has issued a publiclyaccessible National AfCFTA Implementation Strategy. Hence, one could argue that Ghana is not in this situation alone. However, it should be noted that regarding the trade agreement and developing a national strategy for it solely depends on the country.  That is, each individual country’s preparedness determines its gains.

The strategy’s design

How the implementation strategy is designed contributes greatly to ensuring that a country obtains maximum benefit from the Agreement. The strategy should identify the export products needed for other African countries and suggest definite steps to actualise such exports. It should also underline vulnerable and sensitive products which need special consideration, and measures to bolster those sectors. Emphasis should be placed on the SMEs that make up about 85% of enterprises in the country. Cross-cutting issues pertaining to gender equality, environment and climate change should catch particular attention. Other vulnerable groups such as the youth and smallholder farmers must also be given special attention.

The speed of the strategy development

The speed at which the strategy is efficiently developed will not only give the country a competitive edge over other state parties, but will also help identify challenges and fill the necessary gaps before kick-off. It is important to note that strategies developed – be it in trade facilitation, productive capacity building, among others – take time to become operational. For example, firms need some time to build new internal capabilities or improve upon the existing ones, and diversify or add value to their products.

Moreover, the gains expected to emerge from the AfCFTA are likely to happen over a longer term, hence swift action taken to develop a national strategy will fast-forward the country’s ability to benefit greatly from the Agreement. Notably, the AfCFTA agreement will bring in its wake some adjustment cost, since resources will have to be reallocated over time from sectors that are negatively affected by the free trade – by shifting resources from import-competing industries to export-oriented sectors. In this sense, putting a quick but efficient strategy in place provides the country an opportunity to offer adjustment assistance to vulnerable groups and sensitive sectors which may be adversely affected.

Implementation of the strategies

Crafting a national strategy is a necessary condition, but not sufficient alone. Effective monitoring and evaluation (M&E) mechanisms need to be included in the national strategy, otherwise it will not see the light of the day. M&E systems help to identify what is working or not, what needs to be done or how differently the strategies can be done for the overall benefits from the Agreement.

Conclusion

Although it is better late than never, it should be emphasised that time and tide wait for no man. As soon as the whistle is blown for a take-off, there will not be any time to wait for the sluggish country. Being part of the AfCFTA does not guarantee any automatic benefit. A country’s gain or loss depends on how fast and efficiently it develops and implements its strategy…the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be used as an excuse if we are really serious.  The technical working group should employ the new normal form of communication, by holding virtual meetings to expedite action on this subject matter.

>>>The writer is with CUTS International Ghana. CUTS Ghana is a research and advocacy public policy think-tank that works in the areas of consumer protection and education, governance, economic regulation, trade and development, regional integration, competition policy and law, etc. CUTS can be contacted through | www.cuts-accra.org

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