The Africa Trade Facilitation Forum segment of the ongoing Africa Trade Week opened here today with a rallying call to urgently address trade facilitation gaps that impact on trade and the movement of goods in order to boost intra-African trade, deepen integration and transform African economies.
"Time is running out," was the resounding warning at the high-level opening, where speakers stressed that "the global trading landscape is rapidly changing in ways that could leave Africa marginalized if steps are not urgently taken to boost African producers' competitiveness and integration into international markets."
David Luke, Coordinator of the Economic Commission for Africa's African Trade Policy Centre, stressed the need to go above and beyond the removal of tariff, regulatory and legal barriers to intra-African trade in goods, trade in services and investment.
"It is not enough," stressed Luke, "improved trade facilitation is also needed to reduce non-tariff trade costs and maximize the gains from the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) project." Luke spoke on behalf of the ECA Acting Executive Secretary, Abdalla Hamdok.
Trade facilitation - a concept that looks critically at procedures and control of goods across borders - is a frustration underpinning regional integration and trade discussions. Africa's lack of trade facilitation measures has long been bemoaned for the huge cost burden associated with the process of moving goods. Addressing these measures includes looking into maximizing efficiency, while safeguarding existing legitimate regulatory objectives.
Referencing analysis by the ECA, Luke told the wide-ranging gathering of academics, civil society, private sector and government representatives, that establishing the CFTA would boost intra-African trade by US$34.6 billion between 2010 and 2022, which is equivalent to 52.3 percent. This, he said, "is enough to achieve the AU Summit's declared objective to increase trade among African countries by 50 percent by 2022."
A critical issue pointed out by the same research is that these gains are significantly higher when accompanied by supportive trade facilitation measures, which Luke said "could more than double intra-African trade by 2022, stimulating industrial products the most."
Speaker after speaker stressed the importance of trade facilitation, including the Chairperson of the African Union Commissioner (AUC); AUC's Trade and Industry Department Commissioner, Fatima Haram Acyl and Benedict Oramah, President of the African Export-Import Bank.
A sense of urgency continues to permeate the Africa Trade Week. Participants are cognizant of the fact that maximizing the gains of the Continental Free Trade Area will depend on shifts, which according to AUC Deputy Chairperson Erastus Mwencha, "do not necessarily require much in terms of friendly borders. Reducing the time to export and import, making our borders friendly are about political will."