There is need for private sector involvement in all stages of the African Continental Free Trade Area processes to ensure smooth operationalisation, implementation and monitoring if the continent’s historic trade deal is to succeed.
This was a key resolution Monday evening as policy makers and trade experts wrapped up a day’s session at the African Union Commission headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Session one of the meeting looked into the key elements required to establish an efficient and active Continental Free Trade Market.
At the end, Chipego Zulu, former Chief Executive Offier of the Zambia Association of Manufacturers, toldThe New Times that it is important “to be more inclusive” if the continent’s historic trade deal is to work. The private sector as well as the continent’s youth and women must be actively involved, she stressed.
Zulu added that: “The involvement of the private sector is cardinal. Everyone who was at the meeting recognises that policy is one aspect of the discussion but implementation is another thing and this is about the players on the ground; industry, private sector, SMEs.”
“In Africa, especially, we note that most trade happens in the informal sector. We need to create the systems, the regime and information they empowers SMEs to contribute to the realisation of the AfCFTA,” she said.
Treasure Thembisile Maphanga, Former Director, Trade and Industry at the African Union Commission, also told The New Times that it is vital to have the private sector involvement because it is not governments that implement free trade agreements but the former.
She said: “It is the private sector that does so. I think the key messages out of this conference is re-emphasising the importance of involving the private sector in the whole cycle: from preparation, the negotiations up to implementation.”
“That’s what will bring credibility to the AfCFTA. For me, it’s a matter of governance. Good governance requires the private sector involved. But also, note that they are the ones who bring the feedback on what needs to be done or reformed in the business environment so as to make the AfCFTA work,” she added.
Strengthen Pan-Africanism spirit
The meeting also noted that there is need to strengthen the Pan-Africanism spirit and political will in the driving of the African integration agenda, in the same regard.
It was agreed that an inclusive stakeholder engagement programme is critical in order to build ownership and sustained momentum during the implementation phase of the AfCFTA.
The resolutions of the meeting will be forwarded to African Ministers for action.
The AfCFTA is the continent’s most ambitious integration initiative. It mainly aims to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business people and investments; and expand intra-Africa trade across Regional Economic Communities and the continent.
Trade in goods and trade in services are key elements in phase one of negotiations where issues on the table include tariff concessions, rules of origin for goods and schedule of specific commitments for services.
Phase two of negotiations will tackle matters including investment, competition and intellectual property.
So far, 52 of the 55 AU member states are signatories to the agreement.
Benin, Eritrea and Nigeria are the only three countries that have not yet signed the agreement establishing the AfCFTA
In addition, 23 parliaments of AU member states have approved ratification of the agreement and deposited instruments of ratification.
The AfCFTA was first signed by African leaders on March 21, 2018, in Kigali.
Once implemented, experts say that the AfCFTA will increase intra-African trade by over 50 per cent, and boost the continent’s GDP by more than $40 billion.