African trade experts are seeking swift implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to lift the continent out of the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.
Speaking at a trade forum in Dakar, Senegal, AfCFTA Secretary-General Wamkele Mene said the pandemic had, for the first time in 25 years, caused a contraction of Gross Domestic Products (GDP) of between two and five per cent in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).
According to him, the decline will manifest itself in reduced exports and loss of employment, among other challenges.
He noted the projection that the implementation of the AfCFTA would boost intra-Africa trade by more than $35 billion while increasing value-chain development across all sectors and reducing trade deficit by 50 per cent.
Deputy Director, International Trade Centre (ITC), a joint agency of the World Trade Organisation and the United Nations, Dorothy Tembo, said Africa must work toward operating as one trade bloc by January 1, 2021.
She said ITC was fully engaged in helping the African private sector to convert opportunities offered by the AfCFTA into concrete business transactions.
She also announced the launch of ONE TRADE AFRICA, a new ITC programme to unlock the full business potential of the
“The AfCFTA must be an engine for growth as much as an engine for inclusion. This is also about leaving no one behind and fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030,” Tembo said.
Sharing a similar perspective, Secretary General of Senegal’s Ministry of Trade, Small and Medium Enterprises, Mr Samba Ndao, said the AfCFTA is an instrument of regional integration, a ramp towards constructive globalisation and inclusive economic and social development.
Tembo also indicated that for any regional integration process in the world, it takes time to design the conducive ecosystem, adjust and strengthen institutions, build the right trade infrastructures and empower the citizens to play an active role and access opportunities offered by the single trade area.
Mene said the AfCFTA was working with partners to develop a vibrant programme for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with a particular focus on women and youth. It is estimated that informal traders and SMEs undertake 30 to 40% of cross-border trade in Africa.
Also speaking at the forum, European Union Delegation Team leader, Amaury Hoste, said the European Union was the brainchild of regional integration, and believed that SMEs can do much if the environment is favourable.
“We as ECOWAS remain committed to facilitating intra-African trade by streamlining customs and administrative procedures as well as regulations in the region,” said ECOWAS Commissioner Tei Konzi.
Mene said that African customs administrators and other trade facilitating and regulatory authorities are critical players in ensuring the seamless flow of trade on the continent.
He added that the AfCFTA was an instrument for social and economic development that would also lay the foundation for establishing a continental customs union. At the same time, it would promote industrial development and sustainable social and economic growth in Africa.
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