The Co-ordinator of the Third World Network (TWN-Africa), Dr Yao Graham, has criticised the Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) for Africa, in its current form, describing it as “hasty, too narrowly focused to trade liberalisation without recourse to the other pillars of trade development”.
He said the agreement was also “too exclusive” and cautioned that an African trade integration should avoid the mistakes of how trade liberalisation had been done in other contexts.
Dr Graham pointed out that any trade integration should be consciously developmental and aligned with other steps which would strengthen the production capacity of the continent.
“African integration is a cornerstone of the continent’s development vision. So the issue is not that we should not integrate our trade, but how to do it. It is important to align that because it now contains major flaws and could create a lot of problems,” he said in an interview during a three-day Africa-wide multi-stakeholder consultation in Accra on the CFTA.
He indicated that the experience of trade liberalisation on the continent over the past 30 years and the discussions around the effects of the World Trade Organisation and the Economic Partnership Agreements had shown that trade liberalisation on its own did not bring development.
“These are the same lessons we learnt from the structural adjustment programmes because the substance of the AFCFTA seems to be rushing on trade liberalisation, while we are seeing very little attention by the leading African institutions to the other policy streams that will guarantee that our production capacity enables us to take advantage of the liberalised trade space,” he stated.
He noted the region had already liberalised substantially at trade relations with the rest of the world, and so if steps were not taken to increase its productive capacity, “what we will be doing will be integrating African markets for the benefits of foreign goods and services”.
Improving the processes and content
The CFTA was launched by the Heads of State in June 2015 to fast forward Africa’s economic integration.
As adopted by the special summit of the Heads of State of the African Union in Kigali, Rwanda, on March 21, 2018, it combines agreed protocols of certain aspects of Africa’s economic integration, particularly the liberalisation of trade in goods and the deregulation of services, with an understanding for further negotiations in due course in other areas, including investment, intellectual property and competition policy.
Africa’s total exports of manufactured products is less than that of Vietnam, a single country. The value of Africa’s exports in 2016 was US$91.7 billion against US$138.7 billion of Vietnam.
According to Dr Graham, the substance was problematic because the process of the CFTA had not been sufficiently broad-based and democratic.
“The national level stakeholder consultation has been basically absent; business associations and civil society organisations are absent; farmers are nowhere near it, and it is the same at the regional and the continental levels. So we are very keen also in this meeting how the processes for decision making on around the CFTA are made more democratic and inclusive; we are also reflecting on how those can be addressed,” he said.