Establishing of free continental trade area will open markets and boost intra-regional trade among African economies, say expert panelists at the just concluded World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa in the Rwanda Capital, Kigali.
The 26th WEF kicked off on Wednesday with a wide range of sessions. The three-day high level meeting convened more than 1,500 delegates from Africa and beyond under the theme "Connecting Africa's Resources through Digital Transformation."
Panelists speaking at session dubbed "Realizing Africa as One Market" called on African governments, regional economic communities (RECs), and development partners to consider establishing of greater continental integration.
"It is a highly ambitious goal in a hugely diverse continent. Africa is endowed with natural resources and people willing to exploit those resources for sustainable social and economic development of their communities," said Siyabonga Gama, Chief Executive, Transnet SOC Ltd, a South African freight logistics chain.
Gama noted that African leaders would play a key role in adopting the necessary measures toward the effective implementation of the Africa free trade zone.
In 2012, during African Union Summit, African leaders endorsed a plan to set up a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) by 2017 as part of a broader effort to increase intra-regional trade within the continent.
Liu Guijin, Former special representative of Chinese government on African Affairs said that continental free trade will deepen market integration in Africa.
"It will contribute significantly to sustainable economic growth, poverty reduction, employment generation, and better integration of the continent into the global economy," he added.
The session deliberated ways to solve export barriers, developing trade clusters, strengthening regional and global value chains given the fact that Africa accounts for 3 percent of global trade.
However, Arancha Gonzalez Laya, Executive Director, International Trade Centre (ITC) said that African economies should push for the removal of non-tariff barriers that hinder trade exchanges between countries.
International Trade Centre (ITC) is a joint agency of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and Word Trade Organization (WTO) for trade and international business development.
"Africa has a couple of regional economic groups, but their success has been limited. Improving trade is critical to tackling the continent's problems of unemployment, poverty and underdevelopment," She stated.
The proposed CFTA would be a key component of the African Union's strategy to boost trade within the region by at least 25-30 percent in the next decade.
According to United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the CFTA could increase intra-African trade by as much as 35 billion U.S. dollars per year.