Yaounde, 17 Dec 2018 (ECA) – Economic diversification is a condition sine qua non for Central African countries to break from boom-bust cycles.
This is the central thrust of messages from a recent high-level debate in Yaounde – Cameroon that crowned activities to mark the 60th anniversary celebration of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in the Central African sub-region.
The occasion was replete with acclaims to ECA for its multifarious reports and advisory services on development polices and practice amidst insistent calls that the Commission accompanies member states to put to practice the recommendations of its wide array of evidence-based knowledge products while deepening its advice to countries vis-à-vis their current development challenges.
“How to implement the brilliant ideas from ECA’s studies is the key,” argued Cameroon’s Minister of Finance, Louis-Paul Motaze.
“We at ECA take this urge very seriously,” said an elated Antonio Pedro, Director of the Commission’s Subregional Office for Central Africa (which has been based in Yaounde, Cameroon since 1962), soon after the debate at the Yaounde Hilton.
“Already we are working in that direction as we support Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon and Congo in helping them formulate various strategies for economic diversification, but this needs to be scaled up to enable us meet the expectations of member States in the subregion,” Pedro added.
According to Cameroon’s Minister Delegate in the country’s Ministry of Economy, Planning and Regional Development – Paul Tasong who officiated at the anniversary colloquium, ECA has stood out in its role as a pan-African think tank in terms of the honing and harmonisation of macroeconomic policies for development.
“The linkage of our national development plans with the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations and the Agenda 2063 of the African Union, and the harmonisation of trade policies are elements of cooperation with ECA which particularly hold my attention,” the Minister said.
Minister Tasong went on to quiz on how possible it was to copy economic diversification and industrialization models that have worked elsewhere and graft them on the home-front.
To this end, ECA’s Antonio Pedro said only proper diagnostic studies of the prevailing situation of each economy would determine the route to take, while adding that countries should capitalise on their initial endowment/comparative advantage to move up the ladder within global value chains.
For that to happen, “I reckon it is essential to imbue our youth with skills to support investments undertaken for the purpose of industrialization,” opined Mr. Shey Jones Yembe, Commissioner in charge of Infrastructure and Sustainable Development at the CEMAC Commission, who represented the President of the Commission Prof Daniel Ona Ondo, at the colloquium, while re-echoing plaudits for ECA’s work in the subregion.
He regretted that in the last 60 years, the contribution of the manufacturing sector to the collective GDP of the economies of CEMAC countries (Cameroon, Chad, the Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea) has never gone beyond 7% and expressed the hope that more frequent encounters with ECA’s Office in Central Africa would help the CEMAC Commission better address this and other issues.
The motion for regular contacts between ECA and the Regional Economic Commissions (RECs) in Central Africa was encouraged by the Representative of the African Union Commission in Cameroon – Mr Gerard Mezui M’Ella who pleaded for a more structured, practical and operational approach in the collaboration between these institutions and member states in Central Africa.
Asked if the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would expect Central African countries (with which it has ongoing financing programmes linked to macroeconomic performance reviews) to pursue fiscal discipline and still achieve structural transformation, which is critical for stabilizing those economies, the Fund’s Resident Representative in Cameroon, Mr. Fabien Nsengiyumva was forthright:
“At the IMF, we’ve become more and more practical,” he said, while noting that the ongoing programme between the Fund and CEMAC countries has an economic diversification pillar and lays emphasis on the improvement of infrastructure and doing business.
ECA’s Antonio Pedro welcomed this new posture, saying “This provides a room for us to engage with the IMF more profoundly in trying to balance the imperative of restoring macroeconomic stability as a short term measure in this region, while pursuing economic diversification and industrialization for the longer term.”
Meanwhile, Mr Mamadou Malick Bal, Economic Affairs officer of ECA, whose presentation on the “Stakes, Opportunities and Challenges of Economic Diversification in Central Africa” set the debate in motion, harped on efficient public leadership; the development of infrastructure and human capital; governance and financing, as necessary backbones to diversification and industrialisation in the subregion.
Central African countries were urged to double the level of intra-regional trade (to at least 5% in the next five years) which could be quickly achieved through the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade, collaboration in terms of maximising product and service comparative advantages and intensifying industrialisation.
ECA’s Subregional Office in Yaounde will accompany member States in this process especially in terms of formulating and fine-tuning their insertion strategies into the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the Boosting intra-African Trade Action initiative.
In this regard, and thanks to a contribution agreement with the European Union, the Office has trained more than 200 experts from national administrations and from the private sector of Gabon, Cameroon, Chad, Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo on relevant trade and market access instruments to take full advantage of the harmonised ECCAS-CEMAC preferential tariff trade regime. The support will be extended to the other countries of the subregion in due course.
Activities in Central Africa to mark ECA’s 60th anniversary also included an anniversary cake-sharing rite and a ceremony during which Minister Paul Tasong unveiled two new billboard monoliths of the Office along Rue 3.069, Quartier du Lac in Yaounde.
The Sub-Regional Office for Central Africa
UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)
P.O. Box 14935 Yaounde, Cameroon
Tel: (+237) 222504347 / (+237) 222504315 / (+237) 222504330
Abel Akara Ticha – Communication Officer
Tel: (+237) 222504348