Some panelists at the Stakeholders Dialogue on Continental Trade and Strengthening Implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) have listed steps necessary for smooth takeoff of the Agreement.
Speaking during the opening session of the dialogue on Monday in Ethiopia, the panelists were in agreement that it was not yet Uhuru for AfCFTA, despite successes already achieved.
The stakeholders meeting was jointly organised by the African Union Commission (AUC) and the Coalition for Dialogue on Africa (CoDA).
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that 22 countries have ratified the AfCFTA agreement, meeting the requirements needed for implementation.
NAN also reports that Zimbabwe is ready to ratify the Agreement on Tuesday, to bring the number to 23.
While Nigeria, Benin and Eritrea are yet to sign up to the AfCFTA agreement, 51 other countries have signed up.
One of the panelists, the ECOWAS Permanent Representative to the African Union, Dr Nelson Magbagbeola, called attention to free movement of persons.
He said there was need to borrow a leaf from the ECOWAS Trade Equalisation Scheme, adding that this was very critical to the efficiency of AfCFTA.
Magbagbeola also pointed out that one of the fears of Nigeria, in withholding signing up to the agreement, is that most African countries do produce goods they lay claim to.
“We know for a fact that some countries do not even have factories producing goods they claim are coming from them.
“In most cases, what they merely do is to repackage finished goods. There is need for policing.
“There’s also the need to address infrastructure deficit, including power and transportation,” he said.
Magbagbeola said the issue of security across national boundaries was of great importance.
He also identified the issue of mode of payment, noting that most markets in Africa are informal.
Other panelists included Dr Joe Attah-Mensah of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and Mr Frank Matsaert, the Chief Executive Officer of Trade Mark East Africa.
The discussion was moderated by Dr Rolf Jeker, a Board Member of CoDA, while chairperson of the AUC, Moussa Faki Mahamat, gave the opening remarks.
A former President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who is the Chair of Board of Members, CoDA, gave the opening remarks.
In his remarks, Obasanjo said AfCFTA was arguably one of the most pertinent issues, currently.
“The economic welfare of our people in Africa and the clear benefits of the AfCFTA, when it is fully implemented to this effect, cannot be overemphasised.
“That is why this issue should indeed be a matter of great concern to all who desire a strong, safer, secure and progressive Africa,” he said.
He added that, for CoDA, all areas of African development matter, particularly those which are part of the continental agenda of the AU.
Similarly, Attah-Mensah noted the contribution of CoDA to the process leading to the formation of AfCFTA.
He, however, pointed out that if the microeconomics of the Agreement is not right, terms of trade would be out of sync.
“We need to be talking to our central banks. Just as we need to pay critical attention to the payment system.
“In this regard, we can take a cue from the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA).
“Also, we cannot achieve AfCFTA if women are left out, as women form the core of informal trade in Africa.
“It should also be possible for a trader to have her money in Nairobi and collect it in Abidjan,” he said.
Attah-Mensah, however, said free movement of persons was very important and must be more than issue of visas on arrival.
“Africa must abolish visa, entirely,” he said.
Matsaert spoke in similar vein, adding that AfCFTA stakeholders need to be pragmatic.
According to him, it is not about putting together plans, but actualising them is most crucial.
He called for standardisation of African goods and services, while harping on linking physical currency and digital currency.