AfCFTA’s Secretary General, Wamkele Mene, believes that by 2035, intra-Africa trade would double and in the process lift 100 million Africans out of poverty. Currently, intra-Africa trade accounts for 15% the continent’s total trade which is rather on the low side compared to other regions like Europe (69%), Asia (59%) and America (31%).
Mr. Mene noted that it took Europe some 60 years to achieve its current state of integration, in response to critics who feel the process of African economic integration has been rushed with the implementation of AfCFTA on January 1, 2021.
So far, 54 African nations have committed to join AfCFTA with 33 countries ratifying the agreement but many of those that have ratified lack the customs procedures and infrastructure to facilitate tariff-free trade.
Trading under the AfCFTA started in earnest on January, 1 this year following a five-and a half-year period since negotiations were launched on June 15, 2015.
The AfCFTA Secretary General made it clear that though many that have ratified the free trade deal lack the customs procedures and infrastructure to facilitate tariff-free trade, Africa would have to start from somewhere and build on its successes, while addressing challenges that will pop up.
“We are not doing it because we want to prove anything to anyone outside the African continent. We are doing it because it is in Africa’s interest to have an integrated market, and so to the extent that there is something that we have to demonstrate and prove, and it is to 1.2 billion Africans that we shall, and are committed to an integrated market and that January 1, 2021 was the start of that process.”
“There will be countries and there are countries who have the requisite customs infrastructure in place today as we speak who are trading under the AfCFTA, and there are countries who are in the process of establishing those customs procedures that are required”.
Mr. Mene dispelled such naysayers as not believing in the African spirit. For starters, no-one is modelling AfCFTA after any other free trade area. It is an African proposal that was birthed with the concept of African unity and the founding fathers saw the plausibility of integrating African economies for a bigger market that will hold its own in the scheme of things.
We will accept constructive criticisms for a better outcome but we should not countenance statements meant to derail or distract us from our chosen course. Mr. Mene’s resolute response to criticisms is the kind of leadership we need.