Potential of AfCFTA cannot be realised without adequate quality infrastructure

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THE industrialisation and trade potential of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement cannot be realised without adequate quality infrastructure systems, a new report by the United Nations and the African Union (AU) report said.

The newly published report, Identifying Priority Products and Value Chains for Standards Harmonization in Africa, was jointly published by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the AU Commission, in partnership with other partners.

‘The free trade agreement has the potential to be a game-changer for the industrialisation of Africa, through progressively eliminating tariffs and removing non-tariff barriers on intra-African trade and addressing services-related bottlenecks, the free trade area can address the fragmentation of African economies,’ the report read.

According to the report, the standardisation of African economies ‘will support the creation of a business environment conducive to value addition and the promotion of intra-African trade, in particular in industrial goods.’

In the light of these benefits, at the outset of negotiations, African policymakers designated industrialisation as the central pillar of the AfCFTA.

According to the report, ‘the industrialisation and trade potential of the continental free trade deal, however, cannot be realised without adequate quality infrastructure systems, including metrology, standardisation, accreditation, quality management and conformity assessment.’

‘The volume and complexity of technical regulations and the variation in certification, testing, inspection practices and standards used by different African countries continue to pose an impediment to intra-African trade,’ the report read.

It also noted that compliance with standards and technical regulations is important for signaling and guaranteeing the quality of produced and traded goods.

Noting that some progress has been achieved at the level of regional economic communities in harmonising quality standards, the report, however, stressed that ‘there still remain significant gaps and efforts by the communities have not been sufficiently coordinated at the continental level.’

David Luke, Coordinator of the African Trade Policy Centre (ATPC) at the UNECA, also emphasized that the AfCFTA agreement has the potential to be a game-changer for Africa’s industrialization but it is now widely understood that the industrialisation and trade potential of the AfCFTA will not be realised without adequate quality infrastructure systems including metrology, standardisation, accreditation, quality management and conformity assessment.

He further commended the ‘significant progress in harmonising standards at the regional economic community level,’ whilst also pointing out that ‘gaps remain, and efforts by the RECs have not been sufficiently coordinated at the continental level.’

The report was launched during a webinar to launch a series of Pan African Quality Infrastructure (PAQI) publications in support of AfCFTA implementation.

The agreement establishing the AfCFTA entered into force in May 2019, while the operational phase of the free trade pact was launched in July 2019. To date, 54 member states of the AU have signed the Agreement while 30 of the signatory countries have also deposited official instruments of ratification to the pan African bloc.

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