"Africa has potentials to develop trade and regional integration. Economies are not transformed. They are highly dominated by internal barriers. More importantly, there is lack of political will among leaders."
These were the key messages of the conference on "Aid for trade and regional integration: Removing barriers to regional trade integration" one of the side event, at the African Development Bank's 2012 Annual Meetings in Arusha, Tanzania.
The conference provided the opportunity for key representatives of regional economic organisations to interact with local and international media, experts from the World Customs organisation and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Chaired by the World Trade Organisation Deputy Director General, Valentine Rugwabiza, the conference explored possible areas of reforms that can be implemented to make enable the continent achieve the important goal of integration.
Moono Mupotola, AfDB's regional integration and trade manager made the first presentation, focusing on the status of integration as well as challenges and why regional trade and integration matters. She explained that the sector remains low in continental priorities due to many landlocked countries, very low population densities and rural communities often disconnected. "AfDB has invested almost USD 2 billion in regional trade and integration across the continent," she affirmed, noting however that trade in services has largely contributed to GDP in some areas compared to industry and agriculture.
Echoing the AfDB, JICA President Akihiko Tanaka, discussed his institution's actions on the continent and said that like in most parts of the world, regional integration would drive Africa's growth and promote inclusive development. "The challenge for Africa is to take bold steps," he affirmed.
For his part, Richard Sezibera, Secretary General of the East Africa Community, gave a comprehensive picture of where his region's trade stands. "Regional trade has grown by more than 87%, since 2008, through facilitation programmes with the AfDB, JICA and the world Bank," he said.
Drawing from experiences in Kenya and Uganda where a one-border post concept is being implemented with development of common bills, he further reported that: "It took ten years, but things are moving in the right direction." He also focused on various other mechanisms put in place, among which are conditions of service of customs authorities, harmonization of laws in the region, delivery of a simplified certificates of origin, and programmes for elimination of non-tariff barrier.
Another panelist, Alfred Braimah, of the Economic Community of West African States focused on access to finance which he said is critical, as well as infrastructure for implementing intraregional trade in West Africa. He said: "One without the other cannot work. We have a number of protocols to facilitate free movements of people. Heads of states have demonstrated political will by enacting the required legislations but we still have challenges." He also said the Community would need to engage all development banks and look at the private sector side to mobilize funds. "The presidential team recognizes that there is need for an adequate legal framework," he concluded.
With regard to persistent cumbersome border issues the World Customs Organisation deputy secretary general, Sergio Mujica, proposed a holistic approach with information technology as a key management tool for customs and administration reforms. He expressed optimism about the prospects for Africa's development through integration and trade.
The questions and answers which followed revealed the dire need to realize the potentials of Africa through synergies among policy makers, particularly by establishing legally binding instruments to give credibility to trade instruments. They also urged stakeholders to take advantage of the interest shown by investors in the continent's economy.
Participants commended the African Development Bank for providing "the first forum of its kind" that also brought together, government officials, private sector representatives and researchers to discuss this issue and what it means for Africa.