Stakeholders in the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) have called for private sector participation and creation of compatible trade policies to ensure successful implementation of the agreement.
Top government officials, industrialists, and financial services experts made these recommendations in Lagos on Tuesday at a webinar organised by the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council.
The theme of the webinar was “Opportunities for Africa and the Rest of the World in the Africa Continental Free Trade Area.”
Mrs Toki Mabogunje, President, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), stressed the need for increased private sector engagements in the advocacy, awareness, education and implementation stages of AfCFTA.
Mabogunje said that more private sector inclusion and participation in the AfCFTA decision making processes would help improve the pace for the successful implementation of the agreement.
She advised relevant stakeholders to incorporate an informal trade structure into the AfCFTA to capture more Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), particularly those owned by women.
“Should the private sector be carried along in all the decision making processes, the AfCFTA would record great success because players are primarily private enterprises.
“We also noticed that most times, when we talk about the agreement, it’s all formal,
“What we need to do to capture more players is to incorporate an informal structure that would accommodate players in the informal sector that account for majority of the MSME so that they are not left out,” she said.
Dr Muda Yusuf, Director-General, LCCI, noted that the benefits and costs of the AfCFTA would vary from country to country due to function of preparedness, cost of production, quality of infrastructure and trade facilitation personnel.
Yusuf, therefore, called for the creation of compatible trade and foreign exchange policies to address issues surrounding trade facilitation.
“Countries are to address issues that could pose risks especially those still struggling with issues around the ports.
“Customs service has been a major source of threat to trade between countries and there is an urgent need to improve the quality of the custom services of participating countries.
“Rule of origin also poses a major threat, but we expect countries to leverage the lessons of other regional economic communities and learn from it.
“We also seek to connect with the Commonwealth by leveraging the AfCFTA to strengthen global trade practices,” he said.
Mr Mahamudu Bawumia, Vice President, Ghana, noted that the creation of the AfCFTA was a long dream of Africa founding fathers.
Bawumia said its success would boost intra-Africa trade and provide fresh impetus and dynamism to economic integration.
He, however, stressed the importance of finding practical ways of making the agreement work, by taking ambitious steps to emerge as a trading power house in the world.
“The creation of a single market for Africa has long been a dream of our founding fathers.
“The coming to force of the AfCFTA removes the limitations of a small market and replaces it with a continental force.
“The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic also provides the continent the opportunity to be self-reliant and we must not waste opportunities that crisis presents.
“We must provide the necessary political and policy guidance on the way forward,” he said.
Also, Mrs Beata Habyarimana, Minister Trade and Industry, Rwanda, said the AfCFTA set the bull for fast paced recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Habyarimana noted that opportunities existed in the AfCFTA for non African countries for investments in manufacturing, industrialisation, amongst others.
“It is cheaper for Commonwealth countries to trade together.
“We, however, need to work together to eliminate the barriers, supplement our efforts, and simplify customs procedures to improve the earnings of the AfCFTA,” she said.
Mr Babajide Sodipo, Senior Manager, African Union/AfCFTA, African Export Import Bank, advised participating countries to understand the rules of agreement in tandem with the specific nature of each business.
“You must understand the different cultures in Africa have different taste and expectations and you must accommodate this preference in your products and services.
“For example, snacks like chips, producers must understand that the taste and preference of your potential market differs.
“Businesses must also develop business networks and relationships by partnering different people across the continent,” Sodipo said.