Research is key as Africa moves towards AfCFTA implementation

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THE UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) on Tuesday stressed that continued research is the key as Africa moves towards implementation of game-changing African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

‘Thorough research and continuous interaction between researchers and policymakers is crucial to ensure the AfCFTA delivers for the continent, in particular consolidating African markets into a single market of more than 1.2 billion people and a GDP of more than $2.5 trillion ,’ the UNECA said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

According to recent estimates by the UNECA, the AfCFTA could increase the annual value of agricultural and food exports by $16.8bn by the year 2040, energy and mining exports by $9bn, and industrial exports by $43.3bn.

Largest percentage increases, accounting for more than 25 percent in intra-African exports for industrial sectors, is projected in textile, wearing apparel, leather, wood and paper, vehicle and transport, agro-foods such milk and dairy products, sugar, beverages, vegetables, fruit, nuts and rice.

Director of the Regional Integration and Trade Division at the UNECA, Stephen Karingi, also stressed that the continental free trade deal ‘offered tremendous possibilities for businesses across the continent while expanding tax base for governments as a result of expanded or new business opportunities.’

‘It is envisaged that a fully operational AfCFTA would among others, herald greater policy convergence, certainty and predictability; simplify rules across the different African trade regimes; as well as put in place mechanisms that would address the removal of non-tariff barriers and enhance trade facilitation,’ said Karingi.

The ECA director also stressed that adding the successful implementation of the free trade pact will also depend in part on regional economic commissions, both in terms of leveraging regional economic communities achievements and also learning from and avoiding some of the pitfalls and challenges they have faced.

‘There is a multiplicity of intervening enabling and impeding factors, including capacity constraints, which would shape and structure the AfCFTA — regional economic communities interface,’ a UNECA statement quoted Karingi as saying.

‘These have the potential to determine the success or failure of these otherwise transformative integrative initiatives. These factors and forces need to be properly analyzed, understood and engaged, including through research and continuous interaction between researchers and policymakers,’ said Karingi.

The ECA director made the remarks during the seventh Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Annual Research Forum on the theme ‘Harnessing Intra-COMESA Trade through the Interface with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).’

According to the UNECA, by investing in capacitating researchers and enabling their interaction with decision-makers, the forum enhances the quality of research outputs.

It also envisaged facilitating the uptake of research findings and recommendations towards moving forward COMESA’s and Africa’s integration agenda, it was noted.

With a membership of 21 states, a population of some 560 million people and a combined GDP of 769 billion, COMESA is one of Africa’s biggest regional economic commissions and ‘has made significant progress in many areas of integration,’ according to the UNECA.

Intra-COMESA trade growth, however, remains low compared to the region’s trade with the rest of the world both in terms of exports and imports.

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