BY SAMUEL NABWIISO
Exploring strategies to deepen private sector participation in the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was the highlight at the panel session during the 2021 WTO Aid-for-Trade Stocktaking meeting.
The African Development Bank, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and International Trade Centre (ITC) organized the session held on Wednesday 24 March.
“The success of the AfCFTA hinges on the ability of African firms to understand and capitalize on the trade-related opportunities offered by the AfCFTA,” said Pamela Coke-Hamilton, International Trade Centre (ITC) Executive Director during the recent 2021 WTO Aid-for-Trade Stocktaking meeting.
The Aid-for-Trade initiative – promotes trade in development and supports building productive capacities with focus to boost the private sector’s role in AfCFTA: empowering businesses with skills and know-how; fostering multi-stakeholder partnerships to attract investment for greater value addition and enhancing market connections using e-commerce and digital platforms.
Ambassador Usha Dwarka-Canabady, Permanent Representative of Mauritius at the United Nations Office at Geneva and coordinator of the African Group at the World Trade Organization said during the meeting that players in the business industry from Africa, need to understand the AfCTA protocol, to enable them exploit the opportunities the free trade areas offer.
During the meeting, the discussion focused mainly on boosting private sector involvement in policy dialogues on trade, investment and infrastructure, strategies to increase participation by micro, small and medium enterprises, and the need for greater partnerships to attract investment in promising industries.
It was also proposed that bridging the information gaps between governments and the private sector would help build confidence around the free trade agreement and noted that fiscal incentives, including subsidies, might be needed in some instances.
Experts who attended the meeting noted that the private sector plays a vital role in speeding industrial development and economic diversification, particularly in the context of the ongoing pandemic and other development challenges.
“The private sector accounts for 80% of total production, two-thirds of investment, three-quarters of credit and employs 90% of the working-age population. But for that to occur, several determining factors should be considered.
Such as creating an enabling business environment, affordable connectivity accelerated digitalization and opportunities to forge strong public-private partnerships.”
The free trade area brings together 1.3 billion Africans in a $3.4 trillion economic bloc. The bloc is the largest free trade area since the establishment of the World Trade Organization, and economists project that its benefits and impacts could lift tens of millions out of poverty over the next 15 years.