Africa: Liberia's Signature to Africa's Free Trade Treaty Sparks Debates

Photo: Nampa
The cabinet is expected to review and make a decision on the Africa free trade agreement, signed on Sunday by President Hage Geingob.

Monrovia — To ease trade on the continent, African leaders have signed a free trade pact thus creating one of the biggest trade blocs globally.

The agreement was signed at a summit in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, with an expectation that the deal will come into force within six months and increase prosperity for 1.2 billion Africans.

The purpose of the agreement is to establish a single market for goods, services, and movement of persons in order to deepen the economic integration of the African continent.

On paper, this deal seems to boost commerce, growth and employment.

Liberia, as one of the countries who signed the pact, has an economy that is largely depending on imported goods and export of raw material out of the continent.

Economists and entrepreneurs alike are pondering over the benefits of the agreements for the local economy.

Jefferson Somah, an entrepreneur, suggests that the West African nation must put its acts together in order to benefit from such free trade deal.

He is also concern about the Liberia's value addition capability.

"Liberia does not have industries to produce and supply the region least to say the continent - this will only profit countries with structured economy and are producing locally," Somah said.

Somah says the government should work to financially stimulate infant industries and encourage company shipping raw material to turn it into finished goods.

The young entrepreneur is concern about the kind of exports Liberia is going to be trading with the rest of Africa and her neighbors.

"We need to encourage investors to add value to the raw material, we can't be having Firestone carrying raw material out of Liberia, then we say we are serious or going to benefit from this free trade deal," Somah said.

"What research have we done to inform our decision, what are we going to trade to the rest of Africa?

Look, for us to realize anything we have to work on the energy sector because we can't be encouraging production and we do not have power to supply those industries."

Somah said building roads and empowering local businesses should be the government focus.

"This deal is promising but locally we have to put our house in order."

John Yormie, the Executive Director Liberia Research and Development Network, thinks the initiative is a laudable venture but added that bottlenecks hindering trade across the continent should be remove.

Yormie emphasize the need for political will amongst Africa leaders, noting that a lot of instruments have been signed but implementation is a problem.

"I'm hoping with this kind of enthusiasm all the Presidents in Africa have put into it."

"It should be something to change the life of the average business person, if you will agree with me, most of the traders are at the primary levels," Yormie said.

He urged African nations to relax their emigration laws to expedite the movement of goods and services across borders.

"We should have relaxed emigration laws, there should be mutual understanding for the free flow of trade, moving by land to cross boards there are lot of bottlenecks that hinder trade across Africa," Yormie added.

The LRDN Executive Director warns that unless these barriers are alleviated, trade across the continent will be affected.

"It is about getting the product from one point to another, you find people leaving Liberia going Togo and Nigeria getting garments coming back to Liberia, if these people have barriers at those crossing points it will affect trade," Yormie said.

Most economies in Africa have had significant growth over the last ten years and establishing free trade is a positive idea, he added.

According to him, study should be done on the European free trade zone to know how it spread growth and how Africa can learn from their experience.

"I see a big growth. It is just about doing it with sincerity, the kind of market Africa has now, it's one any businessperson will want to explore," Yormie said.

Trade between African countries is relatively low. It accounts for only 10% of all commerce on the continent - compared with 25% in Southeast Asia.

Ministry of Commerce Knowledge Management and Archives Director, Lowell Wisely, who attended the summit thinks the African continental free trade area is an ambitious move by African countries.

Wisely said the move is to establish a single market, adding that Africa needs to trade with itself.

"This will boost intra Africa trade, Europe and the rest of the world come to Africa to take raw material," he said, averring that African leaders have decided that it is time for Africa to build its economy.

"They (Europe and America) only want to take our raw materials and bring their finish product for very high prices, it's time Africa start the process from here," Wisely said.

Over US$3.5 trillion dollars is trade out of Africa, and if such trade is done amongst African nations, a lot of money will remain in the economy, Wisely said.

The Commerce Official said the free trade zone creates a single custom territory.

"If you leave from Liberia to Ethiopia it will be free of tariff, we will have one custom union," Wisely said.

Ten countries, including Nigeria, have refused to sign the deal, and it will need to be ratified by all the signatories' national parliaments before the bloc becomes a reality.

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