African economies must improve the quality of statistics on intra-African trade in order to guide innovation and evidence-based policy-making, Carlos Lopes, the Under Secretary General and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa has said.
In his address to the second edition of the African Trade Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, yesterday, Lopes said that despite growth leaps by the continent, inaccurate information on its sector performances jeopardised this growth.
“The figure for intra-Africa trade is misleading because it takes no account of the informal trade that occurs between African countries and which can be witnessed on a daily basis at almost every border,” Lopes said, adding that: “This points to the very important role of generating accurate statistics about trade and economic activity in Africa to inform evidence based policy making.
He told economy leaders at the forum not to wait for foreign investments but to consider the continent’s surging middle class as a potential resource that can harness the its internal trade.
“A lot has been said about the rise of the middle class which is estimated at 326 million Africans. Just as external actors are gearing up to exploit the demand emerging from this class, it is essential that business entities within the continent take advantage of this situation, particularly as barriers to intra-Africa trade are beginning to fall.
“Similarly, Africa’s population is increasingly urban and the benefits of agglomeration including increased domestic demand will work in tandem with internal trade to boost the creation of regional value chains.”
In spite of the positive growth registered by several African economies, Lopes said, many still face downside threats and vulnerabilities from economic shocks, conflict, unemployment, natural disasters and health hazards due to insufficient tapping of resources.
“It is important to highlight trade as a tool to overcome Africa’s vulnerabilities, however, this is not only just about vulnerabilities but about untapped resources from demographics, natural resources and agriculture,” he said.
“Therefore, Africa needs to articulate and implement policies that enhance productive capacities and simplify trade logistics that enable the provision of trade related infrastructure.”
He warned Africa not to only focus on trade barriers but also collaborate to tackle emerging challenges like climate change and digitalisation as well as new rules and norms in international trade that may hamper intra-Africa trade.
The Africa Trade Forum, which brings together different trade constituencies from around the continent, has over the years become a key platform for discussing the continent’s economic landscape.