The regional business community on Thursday held discussions in Arusha, Tanzania about how the East African Private Sector, including Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), could benefit from the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA).
The meeting largely observed that the AfCFTA is not simply a free trade agreement since it is about establishing a unified continental market with 1.2 billion potential customers with the private sector regarded as a major engine to make it happen.
The one-day meeting was organised by the East African Business Council (EABC) and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). Close to 40 key players from the region’s private sector attended.
Early this month, the trade deal got the minimum required ratifications after the Gambia became the 22nd country to ratify it.
Nick Nesbitt, EABC Chairperson, emphasised the importance of the continent having a clear vision to put an end to the fragmentation of the internal market.
“I really applaud everybody who has been involved in creating the AfCFTA, because their vision is one for pan-Africanism. It is something our founding founders aspired to,” Nesbitt said.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa Eastern Africa Sub-regional office estimates large potential gains from the deal. These include an increase in intra-African exports of Eastern Africa by nearly $1 billion and job creation of 0.5 to 1.9 million.
“Together, African economies have a collective GDP of 2.5 trillion USD, making it the 8th largest economy in the world. That makes the continent much more attractive to investment, both from within and from outside the continent,” said Andrew Mold, Acting Director of ECA in Eastern Africa.
“This should encourage business people to take advantage of AfCFTA and make the investments necessary to sustain economic growth and create employment.”
Kenneth Bagamuhunda, Director General of Customs and Trade at the EAC Secretariat, cited the experience of Regional Economic Communities as building blocks for the AfCFTA.
“The AfCFTA should build on what has already been achieved in regional negotiations like the Tripartite Free Trade Area, as well as within our respective regional blocs,” Bagamuhunda said.
Bagamuhunda highlighted governments’ need to create a conducive environment for the successful implementation of AfCFTA.
The AfCFTA was signed in March 2018, in Kigali.