According to United Development Programme (UNDP), the COVID 19 pandemic exposed the risk of offshoring production of Africa's basic needs. From vaccines and PPE to wheat and oil, the real risk is the same: Africa's sustainability requires a new development approach that focuses on the Made in Africa Revolution. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has the potential to transform the continent, driving structural economic transformation through trade and investment to create resilient, inclusive and sustainable growth and development in Africa.
With the AfCFTA now in its second year of implementation, working towards expanded intra-regional trade and investment, especially in sectors that are emerging across value chains with great potential for industrialisation, value addition and green growth - is a policy imperative. Seizing these opportunities for SMEs, women and youth necessitates a concerted effort and alignment of public, private and regional and international partners to enhance existing capacities and capabilities to empower Africa's exporters so that they can seize the benefits of the AfCFTA, and drive reforms paving the way for the realisation of the continental market as a sustainable development accelerator.
In efforts to realize this, UNDP Africa and the International Trade Centre (ITC) organized a side event at the margins of the Aid for Trade Global Review 2022 taking place in Geneva on 27-29 July 2022 to talk about the achievements and remaining building blocks necessary to translate the AfCFTA promises into reality for people and planet in Africa. It provided a platform for influential leaders on trade in both public and private sector, youth and women business representatives - to talk about how Africa can create resilient development models under the AfCFTA dispensation - bearing in mind lessons from both the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the day's speakers were Ms Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Executive Director, International Trade Centre, Ms Ahunna Eziakonwa, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for Africa, Dr Bright Okogu, Chief of Staff, World Trade Organization and Ms Shiphra Chisha, Graça Machel Trust's Director of Programmes.
Whilst discussing how can Africa can seizeAid4Trade opportunities in AfCFTA, discussions revealed how it provides new trade and investment opportunities. Most importantly, AfCFTA brings something that was not there before; stakeholders together on a common platform, which is very much needed to accelerate development in Africa. Ms Hamilton reiterated that AfCFTA is one of the most groundbreaking decisions ever made as it signals a global repositioning of Africa in the world of trade influence. However, she did note that some of its challenges since its inception include the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and conflict in different African countries.
Dr Bright also pointed out that Africa has grown beyond simply receiving help. "The pandemic lesson: You've got to help yourself. AfCFTA was created as an instrument to achieve Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want. We're looking at an Africa energized by its own actions," he said.
Ms Shipra, in her presentation, discussed the work that the Graça Machel Trust does in Women's Economic and Social Advancement through its programmes and networks. She shared The Graça Machel Trust Women Creating Wealth Programme's bold ambition of scaling 10 000 Women powered enterprises that will generate US$1bill in revenue and create 500,000 youth job opportunities in the next five years. This will be supported by GMT's network represented in 17 countries and the GMT Gender Focused Impact Investment vehicle fund, which focuses on gender lens investment. She also identified a few areas that Africa can channel for prosperity. These include enabling informal cross-border trade, wealth creation programmes to help in poverty alleviation and building and growing the African economy through the facilitation of free movement of goods and services. "We need special attention to women, and the upcoming Protocol on Women and Trade is a game changer," she said.
The World Trade Organization Director-General, Dr Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala, made a surprise appearance, much to the delight of those in attendance. In her brief speech, she urged the participants to reimagine how organizations working on the same problem can work together. She also had an interesting thought in relation to Aid4Trade. She shared, "This may sound like one of my really crazy things. I want to see the title of this change from Aid for Trade to Invest for Trade because I think that the private sector is an essential part of what is being left out. We have to crowd in the private sector, and if we keep calling it Aid for Trade, it changes the perspective."
At the end of the session, a number of action points were shared as the next steps. They included identifying specific quick wins in the context of AfCFTA to trigger change; coordinating public-private dialogue and finding ways to raise small business voices; and using online tools to help businesses identify opportunities, compare markets and find collaborative partners.
For more: Watch the full session HERE.
Information from the article was sourced from UNDP Africa, World Trade Organization and the Aid for Trade Global Review 2022 event.