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Africa looks to boost growth and jobs with free-trade area

02 December 2016
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Lowering barriers and tariffs will stimulate the continent’s economies, say leaders

Six years ago it took almost three weeks for a shipping container to travel the 1,100km from the Kenyan port of Mombasa to Kampala, the Ugandan capital. While poor infrastructure did not help, the delays were largely down to the myriad layers of red tape between the two countries. Now that journey is regularly done is seven days. 

The CFTA is a “must-do thing”, says Nana Dankawoso, president of the Pan African Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “We’re going well in the global markets but the challenge is to trade among ourselves,” he says. Mr Matsaert estimates that reducing trade barriers, let alone eliminating them, would lift Africa’s growth rate by 1-2 per cent a year, creating millions of much-needed jobs.

But securing a deal is going to be far from easy, despite the political will from the heads of state. Analysts say examples of barriers include high tariffs in countries such as Nigeria that are hindering integration in the Economic Community of west African States (Ecowas), nations’ nationalistic traits, and Tanzania’s refusal to join EAC partners in signing an economic partnership with the EU. 

African countries are also at very different stages of development, with per-capita gross national income ranging from under $300 in Burundi to $16,000 in the Seychelles. 

Mr Dankawoso accepts it will not be easy. “We have to do it bit by bit and in our own way instead of copying others,” he says. “This will give everyone ownership of it and ensure we don’t lose control.” 

Some analysts and businesspeople, however, are cautioning against starting the negotiations from scratch, but instead want leaders using the structures of the regional groups as a foundation for a pan-African deal.

All the ministers attending the conference were in favour of the CFTA and say they are keeping an open mind about how it should be achieved. As Okechukwu Enelamah, Nigeria’s trade minister, says: “For those of us that are realistic, we know that this journey is going to take a long while to get tangible benefits.” ...Read More

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