Gabriel Negatu is the Director General for East Africa Regional Development and Business Delivery Office at the African Development Bank. Representing the Bank Group President at the 13th African Economic Conference in Kigali (3-5 December), he speaks of the institution's new Regional Integration Strategic Framework.
This year saw the landmark signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in March. What progress has been made since then?
Obviously, the signing itself elicited much excitement. More countries have since signed the Continental Free Trade Area for Africa. If ratified by at least 22 countries, before March 2019, it will become the largest free-trade area in the world. This would lead to greater trade, and therefore higher volumes of value added items, resulting in greater revenues.
The Bank expects that the remaining countries - Benin, Botswana, Eritrea, Guinea Bissau, Nigeria and Zambia will sign.
The Single African Air Transport Market, launched in January this year was another major milestone. By the beginning of June of this year, 26 countries had signed.
The African Development Bank has approved the Regional Integration Strategic Framework which outlines the path to accelerating regional integration in East Africa with regional infrastructure development as a key focus. The Strategy, approved in October 2018, will guide the Bank's regional operations in 13 countries, namely Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
This year's African Economic Conference is being held under the theme of Regional and Continental Integration for Africa's Development. At the Bank, participation in this event is being organized under the leadership of the Research Department, together with the Regional Integration Complex of the Bank, marking a shift to centring research as a core aspect of integration planning
What are the major obstacles holding back progress on integration?
So far, only 12 countries have ratified the agreement. There are also the issues of overlapping memberships in regional economic communities (RECs) whose policy instruments are not harmonized; weak enforcement of existing treaties; non-tariff barriers that continue to hinder free movement of goods, services and persons across borders; and low attention to social, cultural and political integration.
Addressing these challenges or teething problems are the reason meetings like AEC are so important. They give space for dialogue and input from practitioners, policy makers and researchers to discuss ways out of these hurdles.
What do you expect to see from this year's AEC?
I expect the remaining countries that have not signed the African Continental Free Trade Areato do so speedily - especially Nigeria, the continent's largest economy
We need to foster greater alignment between regional economic communities and member countries. The goal is greater inclusion and policy convergence within RECs, but also better coordination between RECs and member countries.
The African Development Bank continues to support the continent's integration agenda and has made Integrate Africa one of its High 5s operational priorities. The Bank's strategic framework for economic integration approved in March 2018 focuses on three pillars: infrastructure connections, trade and investment promotion, and financial integration.
Under this framework, the Bank aims to step up investments in cross-border infrastructure to unlock regional trade and create economic opportunities for communities along the transport corridors.
The Bank will be sharing its experience and knowledge with participants at this year's forum, including a key session during which we will launch the third edition of the Africa Visa Openness Index. This flagship report of the Bank tracks changes in country scores over time to show which countries are making improvements that support free movement of people across Africa.
The Index has helped raise awareness and drive visa policy reforms across the continent to ease movement of people unlocking opportunities for intra-African tourism, trade and investment. In so doing, the Bank is directly contributing to the objectives of the AU initiative for a single African passport.