Tuesday, 7 February 2017

A look at signing up to the continental free trade agreement by African leaders - Kofi Amponsah-Bediako

Over the years, Africa leaders have been criticised for not taking full advantage of opportunities offered through trade agreements to promote continental development. Even though trade provides an avenue for economic growth and development, Africa relies largely on external trade with less commitment to boosting internal trade within the continent. The bulk of Africa’s trade with the outside world is heavily concentrated on primary commodities. This has led to a situation where the continent has been subjected to external macro-economic shocks and protectionist trade policies. The recent global economic and financial crisis which impacted negatively on the continent’s economic performance clearly illustrates this point.

African countries on the continent need to demonstrate greater commitment towards intra-African trade in order to stimulate economic growth to enhance prosperity for their citizens. It is in this regard that one welcomes the decision of African Leaders signing up to the continental free trade agreement at the 28th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of African Union. The purpose of the Continental Free Trade Agreement is to ensure significant growth of intra-African trade. It is also aimed at assisting countries on the continent to use trade as a more effective tool to influence growth for sustainable development.

Apart from primary commodities traded with the outside world, the continent can boast of other products with which it can trade with others on the continent. This means that if African countries organize their trade relations effectively and purposefully, they will be able to supply import needs from their own sources such as beverage, fuel, ores, metals and precious stones as well as basic food products.

Seen in this light, the Continental Free Trade Agreement seeks to provide an opportunity for Africa to maintain food security and boost trade in agricultural products. The Agreement has four main objectives. First, it is to create a single continental market for goods and services and thereby accelerate Continental Customs Union. The Second is to expand intra-African trade through better harmonisation and coordination of trade liberalisation and facilitation regimes. The third is to resolve the challenges of multiple forms of membership and expedite regional and continental processes. The Agreement also seeks to enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level through the exploitation of opportunities for large scale production, continental market access and better reallocation of resources.

These objectives are laudable but it will require greater efforts in terms of unprecedented commitment towards the attainment of regional economic unity. Much has been said about the need for African countries to work hard toward Africa’s economic transformation by boosting intra-African trade. This ultimately, will raise the continent to a higher position where it can trade more with the rest of the world in a more beneficial manner.

Launched in 2015, the Continental Free Trade Agreement should be made to work towards achieving the agreed outcomes of its ultimate purpose. It is good and appreciable that the African countries present at the 28th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union have signed on to the Continental Free Trade Agreement. However, much will depend on how they plan, engineer and work towards achieving the ultimate purpose of the Agreement. The Agreement outlines the good intentions of countries on the continent but each country needs to work selflessly hard to create the needed enabling condition to boost, in real terms, the expected intra-African trade, sustainable development and improved welfare for the people on the continent.


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