Given the right conditions, smaller countries could benefit more from AfCFTA

Addis Ababa, 14 May 2018 (ECA) - ECA’s Executive Secretary Vera Songwe led today in Addis-Ababa a High-level Ministerial Dialogue on “The African Continental Free Trade Area: creating fiscal space for jobs and economic diversification” following the launch of the Ministerial segment of the 51st Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development.

The debate took place with the participation of several high-level officials, and covered a variety of topics related to the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) such as the various stages of its implementation, including internal reforms needed for member countries to fully benefit from the AfCFTA, the strategic decisions needed to maximize countries’ competitiveness, or taxation issues and the importance of international cooperation in this field.

"Free trade is not just a matter of being together, it’s a matter of changing internal structures, having uniform policies, and preparing agendas that are not conflicting with international commitments," said Aia-Eza Nacilia Gomes Da Silva, Secretary of State for Budget, Republic of Angola.

To ensure countries benefit from a free trade zone, they need to fulfill a number of key requirements including the setting up of a complex governance framework, structural reforms, a homogenous legal framework, stable macro-economic policies, said Eswar Prasad, Tolani Senior Professor of Trade Policy and Professor of Economics at Cornell University and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“We, as a nation, agree we cannot indefinitely depend on oil, but we believe that we are now on the right path thanks to diversification. Diversification is a process that needs important, structured and strong financial systems, which we certainly still don’t have at this point. The burden is on the government to make this happen”, said Minister of Finance Ken Ofori-Atta of Ghana, who also urged African countries to ratify the AfCFTA instruments to enable Africa to start implementing the agreement for the benefit of its people “Ghana always felt that a much more united Africa will benefit all of us”, he said.

“Greater trade is certainly beneficial, as long as implementers get the conditions right”, said Ireland Central Bank Governor Philip Lane “Trade is only possible if you know you'll get paid when you export. Central Banks need to cooperate with one another. Everyone then benefits, but small countries benefit more”, he said, also adding that while economic crises can happen anywhere, “areas of the world that are open to trade recover faster."

“The challenge we face is that not all of us in Africa believe the AfCFTA can be made to deliver. We need to ensure that all of us change our mindsets and believe we can do it,” said AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry Albert Muchanga, who mentioned that the feedback given by the 11 countries who haven’t signed the AfCFTA is promising.

The AfCFTA was launched in Kigali (Rwanda) on 21 March 2018 with the hope of opening the way to free trade throughout Africa, facilitate member countries’ industrialisation and economic diversification and ensure sustainable, employment generating growth for the whole region.

At this stage, the agreement is yet to be ratified by at least 22 member countries.


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Issued by:

Communications Section
Economic Commission for Africa
PO Box 3001
Addis Ababa
Tel: +251 11 551 5826