The promotion of trade between African countries is critical if the continent is to change the distorted trade relationship that exists between African countries and the rest of the world, says President Cyril Ramaphosa.
This distorted relationship has been particularly blatant during the Covid-19 pandemic, with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa estimating that Africa imports about 94% of its pharmaceutical and medicinal needs from outside the continent at an annual cost of US $16 billion.
President Ramaphosa said Africa can no longer have a situation where it exports raw materials, only to import finished goods made with those materials, whereby “Africa provides employment and adds value in other economies, while so many of our people live in poverty and conditions of underdevelopment.”
He says promoting trade between African countries will help strenghthen the continent’s industrial base and ensure “that we produce goods for ourselves and each other”.
The President was speaking at the opening of the week-long Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF) in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, on Monday.
The event – hosted by the South African government, in conjunction with African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) – provides a platform for linking international buyers, sellers and investors.
‘Made in Africa’ – Accelerating economic growth across the continent
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has the potential to accelerate economic growth across the continent, said the SA President, and to create opportunities for entrepreneurs, small and medium enterprises, as well as large corporations to flourish.
President Ramaphosa said the AfCFTA will provide new export opportunities for ‘Made in Africa’ products and enable member countries to trade with each other without tariffs or other hindrances.
“All of this will help the continent to absorb the 10 to 12 million African youth looking to enter the job market annually. The AfCFTA should therefore be underpinned by strong and ambitious rules of origin, requiring a very high level of value-add here on our continent.
“We need, as Africans, to resist the temptation to simply become transhipment centres, adding only limited industrial value in Africa,” he said.
The AfCFTA “is about using the combination of the continent’s raw materials and industrial capacity, finance, services and infrastructure to produce quality finished goods to local and global markets. It is about creating a market large enough to attract investors from across the world to set up their production facilities on the continent,” President Ramaphosa said.
He called on leaders to unite and leverage platforms such as the Intra-African Trade Fair to mobilise all African governments, together with social partners, to work tirelessly to address youth unemployment.
He said half of Africa’s people are women, and they are the dominant actors in the informal sectors of Africa’s economic landscape.
“Despite this, women-only generate about a third of the continent’s combined GDP. It is important that the Intra-African Trade Fair gives special attention to African women in business, recognising their great potential as drivers of economic change across the continent.”
The President urged the continent to find ways of attracting more investment into economies, and encourage African businesses to invest in each other’s countries.
“This requires that we improve the ease of doing business in our countries and provide protection for investors through strong and independent legal systems that will ensure the sanctity of contract, and fair and expeditious legal processes,” he said.
The Statesman said the hour of action is now, and reiterated that South Africa stands ready to work closely with all African countries to forge more balanced, equitable and fair trade relations among African nations. – SAnews.gov.za