“Move fast. Speed is one of your main advantages over large competitors.” Sam Altman
The government of Ghana has taken steps to put up certain institutions, structures and programmes to help the country, including the private sector, harness the benefits inherent in the AfCFTA agreement. In the first place, an Inter-Ministerial Facilitation Committee has been constituted by the president to provide strategic direction and coordinate support for implementation of the AfCFTA in Ghana.
A National AfCFTA Coordinating Office is being established at the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MOTI) to act as one-stop-shop facilitation and information hub. Moreover, a National AfCFTA/BIAT Steering Committee has been constituted. At the same time, Technical Working Groups were established to coordinate support to the Private Sector under each of the 7 BIAT Clusters. Moreover, Stakeholder Consultations and Engagements in sensitisation workshops and seminars have already been initiated to provide information on the AfCFTA.
Empirical evidence has shown 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.
Currently, Ghana has not turned out a publicly accessible national AfCFTA implementation strategy despite the fact that the real trading under the pact began on 1st January 2021.
Having a National AfCFTA Strategy
Undoubtedly, for any state party to benefit from the Agreement, there is need for a national strategy. This provides systematic, uncut, inclusive processes toward measures that ensure 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. Meanwhile, an accessible national strategy will provide a blueprint for businesses, donors and other relevant stakeholders to follow for necessary action to be taken.
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 potential export products to 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 SMEs, which 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 strategy development
The speed at which strategy is efficiently developed will not only give the country a competitive edge over other state parties, but also help identify challenges and fill the necessary gaps that may occur. 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, diversify or add value to their products.
Moreover, the gains expected to emerge from the AfCFTA are likely to happen over the long 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 for vulnerable groups and sensitive sectors that 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; and what or how differently the strategies can be done for overall benefits from the Agreement.
Although, it is better late than never, it should be emphasised that ‘time and tide wait for no man’. Now that the whistle has been blown for a take-off, there will not be any time to wait for sluggish countries. 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. There is an urgent need to expedite action on the national AfCFTA implementation strategy.
Isaac Yaw Obeng 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