The Africa Continent Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will be recorded in the annals of history as one of the trade agreements that took the shortest possible time to conclude wherein some trade agreements take as long as 30 years to conclude.
In 2015, the Africa Union Heads of States paved for the AfCFTA through the adoption of Vision 2063: The Africa We Want.
1 January, 2021 marked the date when the AfCFTA became operational at a point when 41 countries ahead of the date operation exchanged tariff offers on December 5, 2020. Fifty four countries have signed the agreement and 34 have ratified and deposited the instruments of ratification with the African Union Commission. As we ululate we are quickly reminded that it is not a time to rest on our laurels but a time to roll up our sleeves and participate in this huge market that has been created by the AfCFTA. This market comes with competition, loss of revenue from some tax heads, takeovers, mergers and looming risks from trans shipments.
Nevertheless the same market presents immense opportunities in terms of expanded regional value chains that come with jobs, preferential treatment of goods across borders, technology transfer and increased revenues from increased trade.
The AfCFTA was supposed to become operational on July 1, 2020. However it was postponed to January 1, 2021 because of the corona virus. Countries are currently experiencing the second wave of the marauding virus that is apparently more lethal. Scientists have advised that the fight against this second wave of the pandemic could be a challenge due to the mutating characteristics of the virus.
The AfCFTA is not an event but a progression towards a culmination of domestic and regional markets. Looking at the status of AfCFTA National Strategies as of August 2020, Zimbabwe is one of eight countries in Africa that have validated AfCFTA National Strategy.
Effective domestication of the AfCFTA national strategies within countries requires strong private sector participation that will articulate sector — specific needs of Informal, Micro, Small Medium Enterprises (IMSMEs) and women and youth led enterprises.
The congestion at borders over the festive period highlight the importance and urgency in trade facilitation reform. It also brings under spot light the Tripartite Guidelines on Trade and Transport Facilitation of Movement on Persons, Goods and Services Across the Tripartite Region during Covid-19 pandemic. For these guidelines to be effective they must be a seismic overhaul of the trade system to usher in best practices of trade facilitation that will achieve seamless movement of people, goods and services.
A survey was jointly conducted by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation(GAFT), International Chamber Of Commerce (ICC) and Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility(TFAF) around trade —related issues; access to trade-related information , import/export documentary requirements, import/export controls (e.g. tests) and inspections ,release and clearance of goods,border agency coordination and cooperation, freedom of transit.
The above trade — related issues are global in dimension including the continent of Africa. The survey results collected from least developed countries reflected that countries faced enormous challenges in the import or export controls and freedom of transit.
Out of a total of 100 percent the score was 19 percent each in the two mentioned areas. The overall picture portrayed by all participants in the survey was that improved access to trade related information and improved border agency coordination cooperation areas could have positive impact on trade.
Access to correct trade related information is one of the critical components in the trade facilitation area. Availability of correct information ensures speedy customs clearances, certainty and reduces costs of conducting trade across borders. The Trade Facilitation Agreement also promotes consultation among government agencies, the private sector while offering all the stakeholders to have an input on issues that affect them in terms of trade facilitation.
Coordination and cooperation among border agencies eliminates duplication of processes that cause unnecessary delays. The coordination of border procedures especially the adoption of the electronic single window concept should be extended to the neighbours who share the same border to achieve accurate exchange of data that is key to trade facilitation.
As African countries continue to trade within the AfCFTA, it is important for member states to revisit the WTO FTA tenets, send their notifications to the WTO so that the AfCFTA is enabled through trade facilitation. Africa has been lauded as the youngest continent with the youth presenting the demographic dividend. The success of the AfCFTA rides on this demographic dividend.
The WTO has observed that giving women and youth an equal economic chance will result not only in economically important outcomes; it also becomes a beneficial outcome for the society as a whole. The AfCFTA Protocol on Women and Youth enables constituents to hold accountable state parties on the provisions of the protocol.
Studies reveal that women make up a large proportion of traders in the informal economy and the informal economy accounts for a large portion of business activities on the continent. The domestication of the AfCFTA national strategies should reflect this gender dimension throughout all the processes.
Sitshengisiwe Ndlovu president of OWITZIMBABWE: MBA/UNCTAD: Trade and Gender Linkages/ IAC Dip/Cert: Trade in Services and SDGs: Robert Schuman Center of Advanced Studies/IDEPCert: Making the African Continental Free Trade Agreement Work. She writes in her personal capacity. For more on trade matters visit her Blog on website: owitzimbabwe.org