ADDIS ABABA, June 8 (EI) — The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is still the agreement with great potential to foster regional economic integration and economic growth, and take Africa to the next level, even in the midst of a crippling coronavirus crisis, economic experts at the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) argued on Saturday.
The experts made the remarks while addressing a continental webinar, which was organized on Saturday by the UNECA under the theme “COVID-19 Recovery Mechanism and AfCFTA.”
Stephen Karingi, Director of Regional Integration Division at the UNECA, said a lot of empirical work had been done by ECA showing what the AfCFTA means for Africa.
“One of the things we have been able to demonstrate empirically is that the AfCFTA has the potential to deepen not only the regional integration of the continent but also to allow us to do more value addition in our production processes,” the UNECA Director said.
According to Karingi, the situation has presented “an opportunity not only to create economic resilience but also create quality and more valuable jobs compared to jobs that are not based on industry.”
“We know what the AfCFTA means for this continent. COVID-19 has exposed that had we implemented the AfCFTA earlier, we would be in a better position than we are now,” he said, as he emphasized the ECA’s analytical work had been able to demonstrate the big role that services are going to play in terms of economic development.
The ECA Director further stressed that the African continent should also discuss the use of digital services to deliver health services and education as it talks about recovery and building resilience post COVID-19, adding ecommerce should be brought forward to Phase 11 negotiations of the AfCFTA.
The panelists, among other things, agreed the AfCFTA is a crucial move towards removing the continent’s heavy reliance on commodity and agricultural exports leading to exponential growth in the manufacturing sector, export diversification and creation of quality jobs if its full potential to be transformational for all Africans is tapped.
Mama Keita, Director of the ECA’s Sub-Regional Office for East Africa, also noted that in COVID-19 recovery, Africa should prioritize labour intensive sectors to preserve jobs and livelihoods. This includes the agricultural sector to ensure food security for the continent.
“Health and digital are indispensable sectors contributing to fix the health crisis so we should strengthen the health sector,” Keita said, adding environmental sustainability was also important as well as climate friendly activities ‘as we build back better’.
The ECA regional director also said understanding current and past macroeconomic frameworks and constraints of States was important for assessing the means available for a robust COVID-19 response and recovery plan.
“The potential of the AfCFTA is undeniable. What is needed is commitment from everyone, including governments and the private sector,” said Keita.
She said there was a need to secure demand for local products post COVID-19, as well as enhance productive capacities to supply goods and services needed, and promote strategic sectors, including promoting innovation and local manufacturing.
Panelists addressing the webinar, which was organized by the UNECA and the Great Lakes Region Private Sector Forum, agreed chambers of commerce on the continent have a great role to play in facilitating trade and ensure African nations traded with each other.
According to the latest figures from the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the number of confirmed COVID-19 positive cases across the African continent surpassed 171,206 as of Saturday morning, as the death toll from the pandemic also rose to 4,766.
The continental disease control and prevention agency, which noted that the virus has so far spread into 54 African countries, also said that some 75,083 people who have been infected with COVID-19 have recovered across the continent so far.