Africa’s integration: groundbreaking but not so new


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

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


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


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


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.

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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The Online Platform, Trade, MSMEs and Women: Lessons from eBay towards user-driven economic empowerment


By Hanne Melin, Director and Head of eBay Public Policy Lab for Europe, Middle East and Africa

Learn more about this timely topic at the upcoming
Global Forum on Development on 5 April 2017.
Register today to attend!

Innovation-womenIrrespective of where in the world we look, we find micro and small businesses leveraging an online platform business strategy to engage in commerce on a global scale. That’s been the finding of the eBay Public Policy Lab and a team of economists at Sidley Austin LLP who have worked together since 2011 studying the trade patterns of enterprises using the eBay marketplace.

The economic opportunities cannot be overestimated.

Indeed, trade participation is linked to increased productivity and greater probability of firm survival. This, in turn, contributes to more prosperous communities. Nevertheless, micro and small firms remain underrepresented in world trade, despite them dominating most countries’ enterprise population. Moreover, developing countries’ role in world trade is still understated, not to mention the small firms in those countries.

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How China’s Rebalancing Affects Africa’s Development Finance … and More

By Helmut Reisen of Shifting Wealth Consulting and former Head of Research at the OECD Development Centre


Africa-globe2015 has been a challenging year for Africa. Average growth of African economies weakened in 2015 to 3.6%, down from an average annual 5% enjoyed since 2000. Total financial flows have decreased 12.8% to USD 188.8 billion, including UNCTAD estimates for foreign direct investment. Africa´s tax-GDP ratio tumbled to 17.9%, down from 18.7% in 2014.

Three core factors have underpinned Africa’s good economic performance since the turn of the century: high commodity prices, high external financial flows, and improved policies and institutions. Now, China´s decline in investment and rebalanced growth is depressing commodity prices and producing headwinds for Africa. Such macroeconomic headwinds for net commodity exporters also imply that Africa’s second pillar of past performance — external financial inflows — have suffered as well.

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Africa, a European Priority

By Mario Pezzini, Director of the OECD Development Centre, and Romano Prodi, former president of the European Commission and former United Nations special envoy for the Sahel

How should Europe view Africa? One day the headlines are optimistic: it’s the fastest growing region of the world, with an expanding middle class. The next day, tragic news about terrorist attacks and uncontrolled pandemics paints a far more sombre picture.

It is these two sides of a single, quickly evolving reality that we must understand in order to find an answer.

Thanks to world demand for its raw materials, to its demographic dynamism and to the growing demands of its middle class, the African continent has been becoming wealthier since the start of the 2000s at an average annual rhythm of 5.1%. This is double the rate of the previous decade and three times greater than in the countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) over the last 10 years.

The oil-producing nations are the first to benefit from this favourable context: forty years after becoming independent, Angola is thus in a position to propose aid to its former colonial power, Portugal, which has been weakened by the economic crisis. But other countries less rich in raw materials, like Ethiopia, are also seeing their situations improve. The continent’s new fortune is largely due to the re-emergence of China over the last three decades, which has carried 83 developing countries to per capita growth rates at least two times superior to those of the OECD countries.

Still, even if we can salute Africa’s improved performance, we would be wrong to be satisfied: it needs stronger, more inclusive and more durable growth. With very low income levels as a starting point, most African economies are progressing at a rhythm that lags far behind the 30 years of 10% growth that China has just experienced. Their savings rates remain far below those of Asia’s economies at the time when they took off, and the economies of many African countries are still dependent on external financial flows.

Furthermore, growth in Africa is still creating too few jobs. On the eve of the Tunisian revolution of January 2011, all of the economic indicators were very strong; none managed to tap into the frustration of a population lusting for freedom, and especially of young, educated people without jobs, excluded from the benefits of growth. On the continent as a whole, fewer than 10% of young people have decent jobs, the rest working either in the so-called informal sector or without pay on family farms.

The continent’s institutions, first and foremost the African Union, have made the correct diagnosis: current growth is not sufficient; what Africa needs is economic and social transformation. This will not flow naturally from the current episode of growth. Public strategies and policies will be necessary to encourage economic diversification, enhance competitiveness and promote activities that are better able to create jobs and value on African soil.


Governments are gradually putting in place these strategies, in which the considerable natural resources of the continent have an essential role to play. But there is still much to be done: on average, spending on exploration for these African mining resources is 13 times less per square kilometre than in Canada, Australia or Chile.

Moreover, the exploitation of these resources and the revenues they generate should serve to trigger a diversification of African industry and exports. Here again, the challenges are considerable, notably due to the small size and fragmentation of the internal markets of numerous African countries.

We can applaud the surge in African trade – which has increased more than fourfold over 10 years – but African participation in the global trade in intermediate goods, a good indicator of the ability of countries to reap the benefits of international trade and global value chains, is barely more than 2%. Africa remains largely a provider of raw materials, which will go on to gain added value in Asia or the countries of the OECD.

Finally, nascent economic wealth does not automatically translate into well-being for the population. The establishment of stable and efficient institutions that can guarantee peace and prosperity is a long-term process. Thus public services on offer – in health, education, security, justice, etc. – do not follow growth curves, in Africa or elsewhere. An illustration is the inability of the countries affected by Ebola to respond to the health crisis – including Sierra Leone, which according to recent predictions should experience double-digit growth in 2015. It would be wrong to view this as merely the effect of poor governance and misappropriation of funds. These phenomena exist, but even when efforts are sincere, progress takes place only slowly.

The taxes collected by African states, which must finance these public services, are in many cases derived mainly from royalties paid by multinational companies in the energy, agriculture or mining sectors. As for the taxation of local business, all too often it strangles small and medium-sized enterprises, while too many ‘informal’ transactions, including large ones, go untaxed. This is not a solid foundation for a social contract between a state and its citizens.

The economic transformation should enrich African businesses, workers and consumers so that they become, through fair taxation and efficient public policies, the first providers of their own well-being.

Europe cannot be content merely to hope for these changes. It must dig into its financial, human and technological resources to adapt its capacity for co-operation to Africa’s new strategic and economic circumstances. More than financial aid, what is needed is the sharing of experience, technology and knowledge. Europe must assume its solidarity with the project of transforming the continent: Africa is far too close to us to be considered a foreign affair.

This article first appeared in Le Monde on October 14, 2014. Read it anew here in French and above in English.