A Sceptics Guide to the African Continental Free Trade Area – and Why the Sceptics are Wrong…

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By Andrew Mold, Acting Director, Office for Eastern Africa, Economic Commission for Africa, Kigali, Rwanda


This blog is part of a series marking the upcoming 
19th International Economic Forum on Africa 


Photo by Frans Van Heerden from Pexels
Photo by Frans Van Heerden from Pexels

Scepticism is never in short supply, generally speaking, and particularly in the era we are currently living through. This is often true when it comes to bold policy initiatives on the African continent. Yet I would argue that a lack of faith is certainly not warranted in the case of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

Objections to the AfCFTA follow familiar lines. There are a series of misconceptions which underpin these objections:

“African countries all trade the same things”

Despite evidence of some diversification of exports occurring over recent decades, this is largely true; Africa is still heavily dependent on traditional export crops and commodities, reducing the scope for mutually beneficial trade. Yet this paints an excessively simplified view of trends in regional trade. Patterns of trade are changing rapidly. The traditional export market outside the continent of Africa (Europe, the United States and, increasingly, India and China) are of primary commodities, but the intra-regional component of trade is much more diversified, with high shares of non-traditional exports and manufactured goods, as illustrated by the case of the East African Community (EAC). Continue reading

How can the new African free trade agreement unlock Africa’s potential?

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By Professor Landry Signé, David M. Rubenstein Fellow in the Global Economy and Development Program and the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution, Distinguished fellow at Stanford University’s Center for African Studies, Chairman of the Global Network for Africa’s Prosperity, and author of “Innovating Development Strategies in Africa: The Role of International, Regional and National Actors.


Learn more about this timely topic at the upcoming
18th International Economic Forum on Africa


Africa-TradeAfrica has an opportunity to show leadership on the world stage through strength in unity, as the rest of the world retreats from multilateralism and increases protectionism. For the first time in recent history, with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Africa could wholly embrace intra-African relations, global trade, structural transformation and sustainable development. But for the agreement to succeed, businesses, which make up the backbone of the deal, need to be aware of their potential gains and be actively involved in its implementation, working alongside governments and regional institutions that are ultimately responsible for speeding up the process.

The challenges to African trade have been immense: Africa only represents 2.4% of total global exports. Intra-African trade only represents 15% of total African exports (compared to 58% and 67% for Asia and Europe, respectively), even if the regions of Eastern and Southern Africa are outperforming Central Africa.

The AfCFTA, launched with signatures from 44 African countries in March, has the potential to open up the free movement of goods, services and people, building the capacity of African businesses. If successfully implemented, the AfCFTA could generate a combined consumer and business spending of USD 6.7 trillion by 2030, accelerate industrial development, expand economic diversification, and facilitate quality job creation — including for youth (72% of poverty rate), women (majority of small-scale traders), and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) (about 80% of regional employment).

But all this will depend on how well businesses are able to engage in the deal’s implementation. These are a few things they need to know:

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Make AfCFTA a reality

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By Abdoul Salam Bello, Advisor to the Executive Director, Group Africa II, World Bank Group; Visiting Fellow, Africa Center, Atlantic Council; and Author of “La régionalisation en Afrique: Essai sur un processus d’intégration et de développement” (L’Harmattan 2017)


Learn more about this timely topic at the upcoming
18th International Economic Forum on Africa


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The March 2018 signing of the framework agreement to form a continental free-trade zone throughout Africa is raising a lot of expectations. In fact, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) would be the largest free trade agreement since the founding of the World Trade Organization. It will include 1 billion people and up to USD 3 trillion of cumulative GDP.

Amongst the AfCFTA’s expectations is a significant boost in intra-trade. At just an 18% share of total trade, Africa has the lowest levels of intra-continental trade in the world. While the continent’s trading blocs have helped to improve these figures, the level of intra-trade in Africa is a far cry from the levels witnessed in Latin America (35%) and Asia (45%). Furthermore, Africa’s intra-continental trade has been substantially outpaced by trade with the rest of the world – often by as much as 90%.

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