From Sydney Kawadza in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Government, scholars and experts have converged at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa for the 10th Session of the Committee on Regional Co-operation and Integration amid serious concerns over lack of commitment towards the establishment of the Continental Free Trade Area. The Committee on Regional Cooperation and Integration of the Economic Commission for Africa Conference of Ministers meets on a biennial basis to review the work undertaken in the current biennium under sub-programme 2 on regional integration and trade.
It also uses the opportunity to review and deliberate on developments in the sectoral areas and make recommendations that are to guide the work under the sub-programme during the next biennium. Speaking on the sidelines of the Expert Group Meetings preceding the 10th Session, which gets underway today, UNECA Regional Integration and Trade chief, responsible of the Food Security, Agriculture and Land Section Adama Ekberg said while Africa has the potential to end poverty and creating a market for its products, the lack of unity to create a CFTA continues to affect this endeavour.
“The continent has the largest growing population which can produce a market for its products but this cannot be achieved when there are no FTAs to support trade.
“There is, however, a need for African governments to take a look at the gap that needs to be filled so that there is trade among the countries,” he said. Most African countries rely on foreign export markets where the balance of trade has been skewed against them. Mr Ekberg said African countries can move forward when they discard their strong attachment to sovereignty.
“We need to share the gains and share the risks. Sovereignty is a risk many African countries are not prepared to share. Some countries are holding back the need to create CFTA because of the purity of sovereignty hence the challenges faced on the African continent,” he said. The 10th Session has an overarching theme of “Implementation of the Continental Free Trade Area and Shared Gains”. According to the UNECA, the major challenge in Africa “is not a lack of good policies or strategies, but a lack of their effective implementation.”
“Crucial to implementation is an understanding of the political economy underpinning economic integration in Africa. The insights from this perspective can help to frame the policy choices and institutional arrangements required for effective implementation.” The session also has five parallel, pre-session ad hoc Expert Group Meetings that will serve as a platform to discuss with experts the results of studies conducted during the biennium under the sub programme.
Some of the issues to be discussed include a declining share of agriculture in gross domestic product (GDP) and employment, rural-to-urban migration that stimulates the process of urbanisation, the rise of a modern industrial and service economy and a demographic transition from high birth and death rates to low rates. Trade and regional cooperation and integration are considered to be core pillars to ensure that Africa advances in its transformative agenda.
The CFTA, which is expected to be concluded by the end of 2017, will bring together a continent with a combined population of more than 1 billion people and a combined GDP of more than 2,19 trillion, according to the International Monetary Fund. African leaders are also aiming at, through the creation of the CFTA, creating create a single continental market for goods and services, the free movement of business persons and investment and expanded intra-African trade.
The CFTA is also expected to enhance competitiveness and harness greater innovation at the industry and enterprise levels. Members States agreed to liberalize approximately 90 per cent of their tariff lines during a period of 5 to 13 years. They also agreed to allow for flexibilities through exclusion and sensitive lists to accommodate countries that may face challenges during liberalisation. Other sensitive and crucial issues, such as reports of the technical working groups on technical barriers to trade and non-tariff barriers, sanitary and phytosanitary measures rules of origin, trade in services and customs procedures, were submitted and discussed during the negotiating forum.
Other key success factors include structural transformation and regional integration and good transportation networks. CFTA negotiations also considered to be moving in the right direction and at the desired pace, with the first phase of the negotiations expected to be concluded by the end of 2017. Zimbabwe is being represented at the meeting a officials from the Ministry of Macro-Economic Planning and Investment Promotion.