Nairobi — The African Trade Policy Centre of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) this week co-organized with Third World Network Africa (TWN-Africa), a panel discussion on the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) and structural economic transformation in Africa, on the side lines of the 14th United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
The aim of the event was to engage civil society and other stakeholders in the CFTA process, provide information and exchange views on the expected impacts of the continental trade liberalization initiative.
In addition to Yao Graham of the TWN-Africa and Robert Lisinge of the ECA, the panel included Babajide Sodipo of the Africa Union Commission’s Trade and Industry department. The event was chaired by Jane Nalunga, from the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiation Institute (SEATINI).
The key focus of the panel was to discuss how the CFTA can be made to work for all the people on the continent.
In his intervention, Yao Graham highlighted that previous trade liberalization efforts have mostly been traumatic experiences for the African countries, and that it was important to learn from the mistakes of the past.
The panel agreed that CFTA can contribute to the much-needed structural transformation of African economies through the encouragement of intra-African trade and diversification of exports.
However, the benefits of the CFTA are tied to the creation of good quality jobs. To realize this objective, CFTA will need to be accompanied by policies to support the building of productive capacities at national and continental level.
While many continental programmes and decisions have been developed in this regard, stronger implementation is required to connect the political commitments and the experience on the ground.
The CFTA agenda is urgent given rising threats from the global economy, such as the megaregional trade agreements and low commodity prices.
Africa’s dependence on primary goods and marginal role in the global economy makes it vulnerable to these developments. At the same time, ignoring the issue of inclusiveness may jeopardize the regional integration vision.
The meeting emphasized the role of civil society in holding negotiators accountable for making sure the CFTA process leaves no-one behind, and called for enhancing the channels of influence for this purpose.
The CFTA, which is expected to be in place by October 2017, will bring together fifty-four African countries with a combined population of more than one billion people and a combined gross domestic product of more than US $3.4 trillion.
With the CFTA, African leaders aim to, among other things, create a single continental market for goods and services, free movement of business persons and investments and expand intra-African trade. The CFTA is also expected to enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise levels.