Editorial: Boosting Intra-African Trade?

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    The 18th African Union Summit of Heads of State was meant to provide the highest political support for “boosting intra-Africa trade” by fast-tracking the move towards greater effective integration and the setting of the Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) by 2017. Instead, headlines have been captured by the failure of the African leaders to agree on a new AU Chairperson, postponing the nomination to the Malawi Summit in June. African Heads of State and Government also failed to convey the necessary sense of unity and political leadership necessary to promote a coherent and effective pan-African vision. In an effort to hide dissensions, notably by Nigeria (read President Jonathan’s position in this issue) and Ethiopia, the final declaration weakly states that the CFTA “should be operationalized by the indicative date of 2017”. 

    Is the glass half full or half empty? An optimistic view would focus on the endorsement of the new Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), the commitment to further support existing regional integration initiatives and the further development of a framework programme and plan of action paving the way towards greater integration and the establishment of the CFTA. These are all laudable objectives. But the real challenge is to move from well-rehearsed rhetoric on regional integration and grand designs to concrete actions towards effective integration. 

    In this respect, whether or not a CFTA will be in place by 2017 is of little importance. It will not. But a sense of urgency should prevail among African leaders on the need to take concrete steps to significantly reduce barriers and various impediments to trade among African nations, within existing regional economic communities (RECs) of course, as well as among RECs. To this end, commitments at the AU level might help, provided they are realistic and meet a strong consensus. Yet, it is only in their translation and effective implementation at the national level that regional ambitions start to make sense. To become credible, African leaders should act at home on the effective implementation of the regional agenda.

    Dr. San Bilal, Head of the Economic Governance Programme at ECDPM  

    This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 1, Issue 1

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