Officials from the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) secretariat have said it will take them three to four years to devise strategies and devote resources to ensure that that the most critical challenge of the free trade area, transit trade, is fixed to accelerate trading on the continent.
It is the officials’ hope that fixing the most difficult challenge will serve as a blueprint that can be replicated across the continent to either ameliorate or fix other challenges being faced across the continent since trading commenced on January 1, 2021, the Secretary-General of the African Continental Free Trade Area, Wamkele Mene, has revealed.
Addressing a delegation from the Union of African Shippers’ Council (UASC), Mr. Mene mentioned transit trade as one of the most difficult challenges faced so far. He said the task to ensure free movement of goods on the continent is a daunting one, and the private sector will greatly need to support the secretariat in achieving the goal of unlocking a market of 1.2 billion people with a combined GDP of US$3.4trillion. For him, success of the AfCFTA will bolster private businesses more than any other strata.
“I want to keep emphasising that I am very much aware of how difficult this task is going to be, but I don’t believe we should say that it is too difficult so let’s leave it. I think we should confront it. If we fail, we failed trying; if we succeed, we succeeded by trying,” Mr. Mene said.
He said one of his immediate tasks is looking into how to ensure that it is cheaper to transport goods within the continent, as research has shown that in some instances transporting goods to Europe is less costly than a neighbouring African country.
“I don’t think any African should take pride in the fact that it is cheaper to send your goods to Europe first if you are sending them to another African country. It is not something that as Africans we should be distinguished for around the world. I keep emphasising that we should choose the most difficult challenge and focus on it for 3 to 4 years in order to find a solution that works,” he noted.
He indicated another major issue hampering the AfCFTA is insecurity on the continent. “I know that there are insecurity-related issues in some regions of the continent, and this is something that is very serious; but I believe in time and with making a good-faith effort, we can overcome that as well. Notwithstanding the existence of these insecurities, let us find a way to make it work,” he added.
For him, the fact that East and Southern Africa have managed to transport goods smoothly and timeously among themselves means there can be a models which work for Central, West and North Africa – and he is poised to implement them when they are formulated.
“Regions on the continent are at different levels of success; of course, we know that. Let us focus our resources on where there are particular problems and we could actually find a model that works; we can look at what East Africa has done, improve on it and find a model that works even better than in Southern Africa. I take the view that we should confront these challenges head-on. It is not going to be easy but we’ve got to at least make a good faith effort,” he opined.
The AfCFTA comprises the largest number of member-countries in any trade deal since formation of the World Trade Organisation. By giving a boost to intra-regional trade – especially in manufacturing, AfCFTA is expected to increase employment opportunities and help women get into the workforce. This can result in a gradual altering of global supply chains, especially for products which require relatively lesser skills.