Addis Ababa, 24 February 2021 (ECA) – The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), through its African Trade Policy Centre (ATPC) and the Agriculture and Business Enabling Environment Section organized a Webinar jointly with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to discuss the impact of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) on African agricultural and food trade.
Agriculture is a major economic sector for Africa which generates around US$ 100 billion or 15% of the continental GDP annually. Although its contribution to GDP tends to vary widely from one country to another, ranging from just over 2% in South Africa to 35% in Mali, agriculture remains a critical sector for the continent in terms of employment, food security as well as to some extent exports.
Regrettably, Africa has been a net importer of basic food products for over two decades, which is likely to worsen in the short term due to the Covid-19 crisis. It is here that the AfCFTA becomes crucial.
David LUKE, Coordinator of ATPC, opened the Webinar by noting that intra-African trade in agricultural and food products could increase between 20% and 30%, following the removal of just tariffs on goods under the AfCFTA reform. Referring to a recent ECA empirical analysis of the AfCFTA modalities on goods, he stressed, however, that those gains will not be automatic. AfCFTA State Parties need to finalize – as a matter of urgency – their tariff schedules, resolve outstanding issues on rules of origin, and, in doing so, prioritize trade in agricultural and food products.
The issues were further debated by 4 eminent Panelists.
Antoine BOUET, Senior Research Fellow at IFPRI and co-editor of the Africa Agriculture Trade Monitor (AATM) 2020 Report, indicated that the AfCFTA is expected to lead to a substantial increase in agricultural trade between RECs, and particularly in semi-processed and processed agricultural products. According to him, the AATM report further found that the AfCFTA is able to contribute towards formalization of cross-border trade in agricultural and food products by reducing risk and uncertainty for informal traders, and especially women.
Commenting on AATM 2020, Trudi HARTZENBERG, Executive Director of the trade law centre (tralac), emphasized the challenges to be addressed, including non-tariff measures (NTMs) and infrastructure, for the AfCFTA to deliver on its promises. While providing an update on the AfCFTA processes, she mentioned the importance of AfCFTA negotiation Phase II (on investment, intellectual property rights, competition policy) and Phase III (on e-commerce) to facilitate agri-food trade; through notably contributing to expend agricultural production, food processing, value chains development, access to food, distribution networks or even payment systems.
Francis MANGENI, currently Head of Trade Promotion and Programs with the AfCFTA Secretariat, stressed the strong political will which made the start of trading under the AfCFTA Agreement on 1 January 2021 possible, and only five and a half years after the official launch of AfCFTA negotiation back in July 2015. He also highlighted the role of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) to complement the AfCFTA to help increasing productivity in agricultural sectors, access to market and innovation.
Anthony NYAME-BAAFI, Technical Advisor on Multilateral, Regional and Bilateral Trade at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ghana and former AfCFTA Chief Trade Negotiator, made several critical recommendations for the AfCFTA to promote agriculture and food trade. He indicated that in combination with the African Union Continental Agribusiness Strategy, the AfCFTA can open opportunities to “develop a continental agribusiness strategy” with the private sector as driver for sustainable agricultural growth. He proposed to rely on well-functioning farmers' organizations to ensure the involvement of key agri-food stakeholders in negotiations and decision-making to provide innovative solutions for improving the productivity and development of the agricultural sector. To transform the AfCFTA's potential into concrete opportunities, he concluded that countries will need to initiate national accompanying policies in addition to the implementation of other Agendas and Programmes such as the Accelerated Industrial Development for Africa (AIDA) and the Program Infrastructure Development for Africa (PIDA).
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