Mobilize African citizens for a successful continental free trade area, says Kaberuka

Addis Ababa, 14 May 2018 (ECA) – The people of Africa need to be mobilized for the success of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the ongoing African Union (AU) reforms, former African Development Bank AfDB) President, Donald Kaberuka, said Monday.

Speaking during a high-level roundtable, which discussed issues around fiscal space and financial sustainability in the context of the AfCFTA, Mr. Kaberuka said the continental free trade area and AU reforms were both critical for Africa’s future, adding, nothing should be taken for granted.

“For the AfCFTA we need to get it out of the high level conference halls to the people at all levels.  This is critical to the success of this historic enterprise,” the former AfDB Chief, who gave the lead presentation in the high-level panel said.

“Part of the problem is that we do not mobilize the African citizenry enough. We can’t afford to slide back. It is sincerely my hope that every country in this room should make it a solemn pledge that the AU, the only continental political instrument we have and need, should be a top priority.”

The discussion followed the official opening of the ministerial segment of the 51st Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development and another high level roundtable that covered a variety of topics related to the implementation of the AfCFTA, in particular reforms needed for member countries to fully benefit from the agreement.

Mr. Kaberuka said the AfCFTA was much more than a tariff elimination exercise, adding it should be “a quantum jump in how our continent repositions in the context of a weak multilateral system and a time of a potential demographic cliff for us, for a lack of a better word”.

But for that to happen, he said, Africa has to deal with fears expressed by countries that are still to sign-up to the AfCFTA, convince doubters, or even cynics who think the agreement is utopia.

Mr. Kaberuka said AfCFTA negotiators should address the fears and come up with a package tackling all matters being raised.

“This package should in principle bring everyone to the zone of comfort.  However, even with all these guarantees, success depends on a shift in the mindset,” he said, adding the continent needs to understand that trade today is not what it was thirty years ago.

“The AfCFTA is a lot more than goods and merchandise; the services sector are probably as important, from logistics, telecommunications, to trade, finance and non-bank financial services,” Mr. Kaberuka said, adding tariffs were only one part of the problem.

“At the end of the day it is by promoting economic growth through trade and investment that fiscal space will emerge - that is the promise of the AfCFTA,” said Mr. Kaberuka, adding through the AfCFTA, “we will boost intra-Africa trade, increase market size, depth and diversity increase opportunities for business, consumers, producers, diversify our economies to complex products thereby expanding fiscal possibilities”.

He said it was only by so doing that the continent can build resilience in the current global systems and avoid the demographic cliffs.

Forty-four African countries signed the AfCFTA in Rwanda in March, an agreement establishing a free trade area seen as vital to the continent's economic development. At least 22 member countries should ratify the agreement before it goes into force.


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Economic Commission for Africa
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