The Secretary-General of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat, Wamkele Mene, has said that Africa’s economic integration is no longer a matter of choice.
In his view, it is a necessity if the continent is to industrialise, develop intra-regional trade, strengthen capacities to benefit from globalisation, reduce vulnerability to fluctuating overseas markets, mobilise and maximise scarce resources of capital and skills, as well as forge the way to effective African unity, both politically and economically.
“An integrated, more prosperous and peaceful Africa is in everyone’s interest. Like a global public good, it would translate into more trade and investment, more jobs, and more security for all,” he said.
Mr Mene said this at the second edition of the Antalya Diplomatic Forum in cooperation with AfCFTA in Turkey over the weekend.
He indicated that countries in Africa currently survive mainly on exports of a very narrow range of primary commodities to traditional markets of the North while being heavily reliant on the import of capital goods which has led to less trading with each other.
“For instance, in Europe, 70 percent of trade happens within the continent; in Asia, the rate is just over half (51 percent); but in Africa, no more than 18 percent of trade is between African countries,” he said.
Mr Mene noted that Africa’s over-reliance on exports of primary commodities is detrimental to the achievement of its economic development vision.
“Exports of raw commodities generally attract low prices with insufficient foreign exchange revenues while downstream, along the traditional exports value chains in the destination market countries, considerable wealth and jobs are created,” he said
“There is, therefore, the need to take action to dismantle this colonial economic model by transforming the structure of Africa’s economy from the primary commodity export-based one to a manufacturing industrial export-driven economy,” the AfCFTA Secretary-General said.
Mr Mene explained that the AfCFTA presents a renewed opportunity for Africa to steer its economic relations away from excessive primary commodity dependence and reliance on external creditors/donors to a new economic model based on self-reliant cooperation, value-addition and industrial activities, as well as higher levels of intra-African trade.
“With the AfCFTA, we have an opportunity to accelerate intra-African trade and to use trade more effectively as an engine for growth and sustainable development,” he said.
“For us, as Secretariat, the equitable distribution of the gains of the AfCFTA will be at the centre of its implementation. This is because, as you know, if the AfCFTA is perceived to be benefiting only a handful of relatively industrialised countries in Africa, and a handful of African Multinational Corporations, it shall be rejected by Africans, and deservedly so,” he added.
Mr Mene further said that beyond trade in goods, the AfCFTA covers other trade-related issues that are critical to foreign direct investment strategies and activities including trade in services, competition policy, intellectual property rights, investment, dispute settlement and digital trade.
According to him, the finalisation of all these protocols will greatly contribute to deepening economic integration in Africa.
“With these additional protocols, we are further transforming the continent by removing physical and commercial barriers that have hitherto hindered trade among our countries,” he indicated.
“The continent is, therefore, poised to develop a harmonised market space which will in turn promote the development of regional value chains that will be linked competitively to global value chains. The AfCFTA is in this respect expected to promote the development of manufacturing and agro-processing across Africa, and with them, accelerated economic diversification and competitiveness,” he added.
Mr Mene said ensuring that no group, sector or country feels marginalised or excluded from the benefits of the AfCFTA “will help to address the root causes of conflicts, give hope to our citizenry and set us on the road towards prosperity, seizing this century as ours.”
“Indeed, the AfCFTA presents an opportunity to turn a new page on Africa’s economic growth and development trajectory, to achieve its long-standing goal of economic diversification, through