Africa: U.S. Economist Tips Entrepreneurs on Continental, Global Trade

22 October 2020

An economist in the US government has challenged African women to advocate for inclusion of gender responsive trade mechanisms under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.

International economist and advisor at the US Department of Agriculture, Ms Pauline Simmons said in an October 14, virtual meeting that women should hold their governments accountable in implementing AfCFTA commitments.

"How do we make sure discussions on African Continent Free Trade Area agreement has our interests at heart as well," she wondered in the meeting organised by African Women's Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP).

In 2019, the African Union launched the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), an agreement that promotes intra-Africa trade.

Trade barriers

So far, 30 African countries have ratified the agreement, making it easier for countries to have multilateral dialogues on removing trade barriers including tariffs, levies, logistical barriers, harmonising quality standards and establishing a continental customs union to streamline trade.

Secretariat of AfCFTA, mandated to oversee realisation of the agreement, has already been constituted with a $5 million institutional support from the African Development Bank Group (AfDB).

In an August 20, webinar on Promoting African Trade Partnership: Nigeria - Kenya Agribusiness Export Commonwealth Business Women Network-Kenya, Chairperson, Ms Nana Wanjau, said women entrepreneurs' challenges in access to finance must be addressed for them to benefit from AfCFTA.

The economist also urged women to engage with their respective governments in ensuring provision of timely trade information.

Supply chain

"Timely and accurate information is important to identify market opportunities, reduce risks and maximise profits. You cannot trade if you don't have data," she said.

"You have to work with your governments to ensure you have data that informs of available demand," she added.

For businesswomen eyeing US export market, Ms Simmons advised on establishing a sustainable supply chain that can meet the demand as it grows.

Healthy food

"When you are looking at exporting to the US, economies of scale matters. Ask yourself, 'will I be able to supply consistently once the demand grows?'" she said.

Meanwhile, former AWEP patron Ms Gailmarie Scott encouraged women to adopt organic mushroom farming to tap into growing demand for healthy food. She rallied for introduction of a program in Kenya for women to grow and market the organic mushrooms.

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