Addis Ababa — The two-day Horn of Africa trade forum ended Friday in Addis Ababa with participants agreeing that with the African Continental Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) now in force, it was time for the continent to increase domestic production of pharmaceutical products and end over dependence on imported medicines.
The AfCFTA, they agreed, provides an opportunity for economies of scale, lack of which previously hindered African pharmaceuticals production.
Economic Commission for Africa's (ECA) Director for Regional Integration and Trade, Stephen Karingi, in closing the forum which focused on pharmaceutical, said domestic policies that can be used to support the industry include investment assurances, grants, fiscal incentives and local content requirements.
"However, we should also look at the issue from a regional perspective. We can have policy space to promote local production, but not to the extent that it prevents the flow of trade," he said, adding there was significant expertise on the continent to help build and grow the continent's pharmaceutical industry.
Regional centers of excellence could be used to overcome issues in human capacity and limited resources for research and development and testing, the participants agreed.
"African traditional medicine is an area where there is room for African innovation, but we need to improve on commercialization. This is an area where many micro-small and medium enterprises operate," said the ECA Director.
Some of the key messages from the forum are that implementation of the AfCFTA will be the real test now that the pact is in force; need for strengthening regulatory frameworks crucial for the development of the pharmaceutical sector; there is need to encourage domestic production with a regional focus; domestic reforms required; an efficient and safe logistics chains can significantly bring down cost of African medicine.
They recognized the close link between peace and trade and the need for governments to better engage the private sector if the AfCFTA is to achieve its goals.
Participants also discussed the next steps required for operationalization of the agreement and national implementation strategies.
For his part, Johan Borgstam, Ambassador of the European Union to Ethiopia, emphasized the need for peace in the Horn of Africa region.
"With the entry into force of the AfCFTA end of last month, with peace initiatives of the last year, and with the discussion of the last two days, I do believe that an era of hope and optimism is opening for the countries of the Horn," he said.
"The countries of the Horn could benefit substantially from the continent's enormous potential for sustainable industrialization and closer economic integration."
Mr. Borgstam said for Africa to fully harvest the potential of the AfCFTA and to make the initiative a truly Pan-African undertaking, concerted efforts should be put in by all stakeholders to push for full ratification of the treaty by all member States.
He said the AfCFTA offered great potential for the continent which is the youngest in the world and expected by 2050 to have two billion people. He said Ethiopia for example will have about 200 million people by the same time, half of whom will be under 15 years old while Africa will have over 830 million youth.
"I strongly hope that you have critically examined how the AfCFTA process through the creation of the type of export diversification needed to generate labour-intensive jobs for Africa's youth in sectors such as manufacturing and agro-industry would answer the question of youth unemployment in a sustainable and equitable fashion," said Mr. Borgstam.
The theme of the forum, which was organized by the ECA, the Government of Ethiopia, the African Union Commission (AUC), and the European Union (EU), was: "AfCFTA Implementation: Breaking Down Geographical, Logistical and Regulatory Barriers to Trade and Investment in the Horn to Boost Industrialisation: A Focus on the Pharmaceutical Industry".