ADDIS ABABA, July 23 (Xinhua) — Rapid and effective implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) could fast-track Africa’s industrial development by boosting the continent’s resilience to shocks inflicted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a senior United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) official said.
The statement was made by Mama Keita, Director of the UNECA’s Eastern Africa Regional Office on Thursday as she emphasized the need to intensify the implementation of the continental free trade pact, which she said will enable African countries to withstand the looming socio-economic perils induced by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a great occasion to promote industrialization and structural transformation in Africa,” an ECA statement quoted Keita as saying on Thursday, as she stressed the urgency of implementing the continental free trade deal to help Africa revive from the brunt of the pandemic.
The ECA director also noted the significant role of digital transformation to play in mitigating the impacts of COVID-19 at the moment.
Keita further stressed the urgent need to strengthen intra-Africa trade, towards eventually substituting African countries’ strong current trade reliance with non-African countries and regions.
“COVID-19 pandemic should be used as a game-changer. It should serve as a wakeup call underscoring the urgency to turn Africa’s structural vulnerabilities into opportunities,” she noted.
The overreliance on imports from the rest of the world of essential goods such as medical, pharmaceutical and food items “should be reduced considerably and gradually be replaced with local production,” she said.
Noting that the COVID-19 crisis and containment measures have upended almost every aspect of life, affecting big and small enterprises, the ECA director stressed that the pandemic has disrupted the supply chains, eventually causing the decline of export revenues and interrupting the tourism, transport and logistics sectors significantly.
According to the latest figures from the ECA, Africa’s projected GDP growth of 3.2 percent for 2020 is now expected to be a sharp contraction due to the adverse socioeconomic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the continent.
The AfCFTA, which was launched in March 2018 in Kigali, capital of Rwanda envisaging a long-standing goal of creating a unified continental market, has so far garnered 54 signatories, offering a new hope and continental exhilaration in terms of boosting intra-African trade, and eventually augmenting Africa’s development and industrialization.
As African countries presently brace for the imminent trading regime under the AfCFTA, uncertainties are looming whether the ambitious continental free trade pact could deliver its expected aspirations anytime soon amid the unprecedented economic perils that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
Once operational, the African free trade accord has the potential of boosting the level of intra-Africa trade by more than 52 percent by the year 2022, according to the UNECA.
As countries set to start trading under the AfCFTA anytime soon, the 55-member pan African bloc, African Union, had also recently warned that “the timeframe is tight and the stakes are high.” Enditem