Africa: SADC-PF Concerned That Some Member States Are Yet to Ratify Africa Free Trade Agreement

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Member states who have not yet ratified the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) have been urged to do so, so that the continent can speedily revive their economies back to economic growth of around 4.5%.

The Secretary General of the AfCFTA, Mr Wamkele Mene, told a virtual sitting of the Southern Africa Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC-PF) that reducing barriers to trade and increasing free movement of goods will drive Africa's recovery.

Regional economic blocs are AfCFTA's building blocks, he said, and it will be critical to monitor, enforce and evaluate the free trade agreement. AfCFTA is a useful tool to push back poverty and accelerate development across the continent through coordinated access to markets. Mr Mene added: "Africa has a unique opportunity to position for industrial development and value addition. Something drastic has to be done to resolve low growth. This is an opportunity to accelerate Africa development."

Other SADC-PF members highlighted that implementation of the agreement is urgently needed and encouraged those who have yet to do so. Mr K Sibande noted that commodity diversification in Africa is too low and that African countries should trade more with one another.

Poor ICT infrastructure, digital penetration and road infrastructure compounds the problem. Mr Sibande asked SADC-PF if it was possible to increase intra-African trade without industrialising. He identified competitiveness, industrialisation and support for regional infrastructure development as key elements in the process.

The Southern African Customs Union's (SACU's) Ms Paulina Mbala Elago said the low intra-African trade is a characteristic of a lack of market integration. "Trade liberalisation is not sufficient to maximise gains from trade. Importantly, we need to refocus our agenda on industrialisation."

Ms Mbala Elago also pointed out that Covid-19 has highlighted weaknesses in Africa's pharmaceutical exports. "We should be looking at how to capitalise and inject the sector. We have the scientists; we have the researchers." To this end, SACU is engaging sectoral partners and will convene a ministerial roundtable later in the year.

Ms Anele Ndebele said ending corruption, building better road and rail links, and ending bureaucracy at borders are important if regional integration is to be achieved. "We could not move in the right direction if other members have not ratified. They should be encouraged to ratify and could ratify with reservations, as is allowed in terms of international protocols."

Sibongile Maputi

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