The African Continental Free Trade Area offers a unique opportunity for the private sector to benefit immensely in terms of new markets, access to raw materials, technology and increasing economies of scale.
Andrew Mold, Acting Director of ECA in Eastern Africa said that the AfCFTA Agreement itself is not, as the name suggests, simply a Free Trade Agreement- it is about creating a unified continental market. The focus on trade liberalization is just the start. "The Agreement itself is 78 pages long, and the annexes 124 pages long. Its protocols have a lot of implications for business - whether that is on investment, on competition, on intellectual property, or free movement," said Mold.
Mold also added that it is was important for COMESA member states to ratify and implement the Tripartite Agreement between COMESA, SADC and EAC, as a fundamental building block towards the completion of the AfCFTA. He was speaking at the panel discussing Africa's competitive advantages during the 21st COMESA International Trade Fair and High-Level Business Summit in Nairobi, Kenya.
The Summit, under the theme "Powering Regional Integration through Trade", was opened by Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta and was attended by three other Heads of States, namely Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Edgar Lungu of Zambia and Paramasivum Pillay Vyapoory of Mauritius. Kenya's Deputy President William Ruto and Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) as well as hundreds of delegates from the COMESA member states attended the conference.
President Kenyatta said that "As Africa embraces AfCFTA, the business communities, both regionally and globally eagerly await the benefits of trade that will come not only with expanded markets but with the opportunities for rapid development and access to innovation and technology." President Kenyatta observed that African countries are at very different levels of digitalizing their economies. but need to harmonise their digital capabilities to facilitate intra-African trade, especially for the benefit of small and medium-sized firms. "Why can't, for example, a shop owner in Kenya get his supplies directly from a farmer in Zambia? That is the kind of trade that digitalization should facilitate," he said.
The arguments for implementing the AfCFTA in Eastern Africa are particularly compelling. With a combined GDP of US$ 880 billion and a population of 420 million, the economies of the region are still highly fragmented. President Museveni recalled that Africa's fragmented market must be integrated to encourage increased production and consumption of its goods and services. He gave the example of China, with a huge internal market but still fighting to gain external markets.
"China has a market of 1.3 billion people, and yet it still looks actively for markets outside its frontiers. Africa should do the same," said President Museveni.
For his part, UNCTAD's Secretary-General, Mukhisa Kituyi called on governments to make AfCFTA rules of origin- the criteria needed to determine the nationality of a product - simple and business-friendly. Kituyi said that it is the rules of origin that will ultimately determine the success of the agreement. "The AfCFTA is going to be made or broken based on how much we give preference to content which is 'Made in Africa'", said Kituyi.
The Implementation of AfCFTA was launched early this month at the 12th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of Africa Union (AU) in Niamey, Niger.
ECA estimates that implementation of the AfCFTA could result in welfare gains amounting to US$ 1.8 billion for Eastern Africa, creating 0.7 to 2.0 million new jobs.