Will the World’s Largest Single Market Transform Africa Fortunes?

Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) – Getting just a sliver of the global trade in goods and services worth more than 70 trillion dollars, Africans have every excuse to decide to trade among themselves. Many argue that it is the only way to leverage trade to secure a better life for the continent’s more than a billion people who need food and jobs.

The Africa rising narrative might be getting the much needed validation to tackle widening inequality, joblessness, generalized poverty, food and nutritional insecurity that eclipse successes in meeting some of the development targets included in the newly agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A rich but poor Africa

The narrative of a poor Africa is about to change. That is, if Africa stands together as much as it did in fighting for its political independence. This time the fight is for a place on the global trade stage. After years of negotiations and the establishment of several free trade blocs, the signing of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) agreement targeted for December 2017 could set Africa on a new development path.

Africa has more to gain than lose in creating the CFTA, which will rival trade agreements like the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the 16-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Africa already has the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) signed in June 2015 combining three largest trading blocs: The East African Community (EAC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).

The three regional economic communities have a combined GDP in excess of 1.3 trillion dollars and a population of 565 million. However, the TFTA, which has been signed by 16 of the 26 member countries, is yet to be ratified to come into force, a blow for the journey to the CFTA.

In their paper on the adoption of the TFTA, Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development and Director of the Science, Technology, and Globalization Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at  Harvard University, and Francis Mangeni, COMESA Director of Trade, Customs and Monetary Affairs, view regional trade as part of a broader strategy for long-term economic transformation.

They argue that African trade integration measures combine the facilitation of free movement of goods and services, investment in infrastructure, and promotion of industrial development as part of the long-term political vision to unleash the continent’s entrepreneurial potential through regional trade culminating in the African Economic Community by 2028.

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By Busani Bafana

This story is part of special IPS coverage of the United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation, observed on September 12.