Asmara — With the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) set to officially start operating from July next year, there is need for concerted efforts to enlarge the group of State parties under the agreement in excess of the current 28 countries that have so far deposited instruments of ratification.
Enlarging the group will see the continent creating a much bigger market that will ensure intra-African trade delivers, in particular by contributing to the continent's industrialisation and structural transformation processes thereby creating more job opportunities and reducing poverty along the way.
This was said Tuesday by Stephen Karingi, Director of the ECA's Regional Integration and Trade Division, at the ongoing 23rd Meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts (ICSOE) for Eastern Africa in Asmara, Eritrea.
"To operationalize the AfCFTA, we need to finalize the remaining critical components like goods schedules and rules of origin. We also need to enlarge the group of State parties and to create institutions, establish operative mechanisms, and introduce obligations into law and regulation to effectively implement the AfCFTA," said Mr. Karingi.
He said Africa also needs to take complementary measures to maximize benefits, in particular following AfCFTA national strategies; conclude Phase II negotiations, especially competition policy, intellectual property rights, and investment, and use the AfCFTA as a vehicle for achieving the African single market.
Mr. Karingi said following the implementation of the AfCFTA, based on the sole reduction of tariffs on goods, Africa's GDP would increase under all scenarios.
In preparation for July 2020, he said countries must buttress AfCFTA implementation with complementary measures, including in areas of investment, production, trade facilities, trade-related infrastruture and import deficit.
Mr. Karingi appraised the high-level meeting on the current status of the AfCFTA, what it means for the continent; and related issues.
His presentation was followed by a panel discussion on how to fast-track implementation of the AfCFTA in Eastern Africa.
Panelists, including Million Habte Begna, a senior expert on Trade Services with the African Union Commission, Anthony Mveyange of Trademark East Africa and Marcellin Henry Ndong Ntah, the African Development Bank's (AfDB) Lead Economist in East Africa, were agreed that Africa's developmental needs were well known and that was need to continually create awareness among the people on the historic AfCFTA and how it stands to change the face of the continent.
"We need to understand and appreciate where countries are right now and the different nuances that they face as we go towards operationalisation of the AfCFTA and seek for signings and ratifications," said Mr. Mveyange, adding more awareness creation programmes were needed to showcase the benefits of the agreement.
For his part, Mr. Begna said national consultations were crucial to ensure citizens understand the whole process and how they stand to benefit.
"The private sector has a crucial role to play in ensuring the AfCFTA delivers the promise to African people. National strategies are important with all stakeholders being involved as key players," he said.
The AfDB's Mr. Ntah said; "The Bank believes in this initiative. We have started supporting through various ways like providing financing for regional infrastructure; we are giving direct support to countries and the AUC which we gave $5 million in April to enhance their capacity to implement the initiative."
The pannelists also discussed Africa's consumption patterns and the need to diversify economic sources to create more opportunities on the continent; the need for accurate statistics to inform policies and decisions; AfCFTA national strategies; the sustainable development goals; and related topics.
From July 2020, tariffs on 90% of goods traded between AfCFTA State Parties are to be reduced in equal annual installments until they are eliminated within 5 years for non-LDCs and 10 years for LDCs.
As a special dispensation, the 'G6' countries of Ethiopia, Madagascar, Malawi, Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe, will reduce tariffs on 90% of goods over the longer period of 15 years.