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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Get the plumbing right: Financial integration should support Africa’s trade integration

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By Amadou Sy, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution and Advisor, African Department, IMF1


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


Africa-plumbingAfrican countries trade much more with countries outside the continent than with each other within the continent. According to the United Nations Economic Council for Africa, trade between African countries stands at about 16% of the continent’s total trade, the lowest intra-regional trade globally. Compare this with 19% intra-regional trade in Latin America and 51% in Asia.

Policies to reduce obstacles to intra-African trade have been a priority for African policy makers. After forging ahead with stronger trade integration within existing Regional Economic Communities (RECs), African policy makers took an additional step in 2018 with the Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA). Signed now by 44 African countries, the CFTA marks a milestone on the road towards a single continental market for goods and services. Continue reading

Africa’s integration: groundbreaking but not so new

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By Sarah Lawan, Regional Co-operation Advisor, Networks, Partnerships and Gender Division, OECD Development Centre, and Rodrigo Deiana, Junior Policy Analyst, Europe, Middle East and Africa Unit, OECD Development Centre


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


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Kwame Nkrumah speaking at the inaugural ceremony of the Organisation of African Unity Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1963

As early as 1963, in the midst of independence movements, Kwame Nkrumah urged, “Africa must unite or perish!” The first president of Ghana pronounced this injunction at the founding meeting of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The post-colonial thirst for “breaking with the old order and indigenising the direction of Africa’s economic development”led to the shaping of the African Economic Community (AEC), a pan-African single market. Africa reclaimed its leadership and ownership with the goal of promoting a self-sustained and self-reliant development trajectory.

2018 witnessed an acceleration of integration efforts with the landmark agreement on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in Kigali on 21 March. So far, 49 African countries have signed the AfCFTA, which will be the world’s largest free trade area since the WTO’s creation. As the late Calestous Juma put it: “The continent’s regional integration is the most complex and elaborate effort of its kind ever mounted in human history.”2

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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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Enabling Asian SMEs to thrive in a digital world

By Dr. Deborah Elms, Executive Director, Asian Trade Centre, Singapore

e-commerce-digital-business-dmA young lady in a remote village in northern Vietnam is using new technology to create and sell her family’s traditional silver necklace designs to customers across the region and even globally who can collect their purchases directly from 3D printing facilities.

Another small firm in Bangkok has transformed its eyewear company to sell online using a mobile app that allows users to visualise glasses from different angles as the phone tilts. Shoppers are finding and increasingly buying these products from all across the region.

These small companies — and many more like them — show the promise of e-commerce and digital trade to transform business in Asia. The tiniest firm in the most remote location can become a “micromultinational.”

But this promise comes with a catch: such business practices work if, and only if, governments in the region are able to build a supportive and enabling policy environment. For smaller firms, complicated or difficult policies that cause delays and drive up costs can be impossible to overcome.
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Are we ready to prevent the next food price crisis?

By Denis Drechsler, Project Manager, Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

food-crisisWhen prices of staple food crops soared in international markets in 2007-10, it was a wakeup call for many world leaders to take action. In view of millions of families being pushed into hunger, the G20 decided to create the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) to combat excessive volatility by enhancing transparency and policy co-ordination in international food markets.

Since its launch in 2011, AMIS has provided more reliable and timely assessments of global food supplies by working closely with the main trading countries of staple food crops. This has created a more level playing field for all market actors to make informed decisions. Even more important have been achievements in the area of policy dialogue. When maize prices spiked in 2012, for example, regular exchanges among the key producing countries helped avoid a repeat of hasty policy action, such as export bans that had exacerbated market turbulences in the past. Through AMIS, it seems, the world is better prepared to minimise the risk of future food price crises.

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Climate Action and Trade Governance: Prospects for Tourism and Travel in Small Island Developing States

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By Keith Nurse, Senior Fellow, Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies; World Trade Organization Chair, University of the West Indies.

To learn more about countries’ strategies for economic transformation, learn about the 9th Plenary Meeting of the OECD Initiative for Global Value Chains, Production Transformation and Development hosted by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in Bangkok, Thailand on November 2017.

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Damage caused to the island of St. Maarten following hurricane Irma. Photo: Shutterstock

2017 will go down as a landmark year given the huge impact of hurricanes on the economic, social and ecological environments in the wider Caribbean. The decimation of several island territories, such as Dominica, Anguilla, Barbuda, St. Maarten, Turks and Caicos, US and British Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico have taken hundreds of lives and destroyed livelihoods in key sectors like tourism. Take the case of Dominica that had a direct hit from category 5 hurricane Maria on September 18, 2017.1 It is estimated that 35% of the reefs at dive sites in Dominica were damaged, and a month later only 43% of accommodation properties are operational. Hurricane Maria went on to hit Puerto Rico that is now facing a humanitarian crisis.2

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