Harare – The postponement of trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) from July 2020 to January 2021 due to the COVID-19 outbreak presents challenges that bring to the fore the role of think tanks in promoting economic growth and development.
This came out during the opening of the 7th Africa Think Tank Summit, organised by the Africa Capacity Building Foundation, an African Union specialised agency.
The Africa Think Tank Summit, which has been taking place annually since 2014, is a unique continental forum that brings together the think tank community, policymakers, development practitioners and experts interested in Africa’s development agenda.
This year’s summit, being held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic, is themed “Implementing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement: Assessing Country Readiness and the Implications for Capacity Building”.
Officially opening the summit on Wednesday, ACBF Executive Secretary Professor Emmanuel Nnadozie said the mounting challenges hampering Africa’s development plans, including COVID-19, necessitated increased funding for Afro-centric think tanks.
“There is therefore, a need to find solutions to put the AfCFTA back on track, to accelerate its implementation and to deliver on the promises,” he said.
“Hence the aim of the Summit is to provide a platform for African Think Tanks and other key stakeholders to engage in a high-level deliberation on the most effective ways of addressing the capacity challenges facing the implementation of the AfCFTA to accelerate its implementation and enhance country readiness in implementing and benefiting from the agreement, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Prof Nnadozie said AfCFTA presented African countries with an opportunity to diversify exports, accelerate growth, increase intra-African trade and attract FDI.
At the same event, Prof Kevin Chika Urama - a senior director at the African Development Institute of the African Development Bank Group - said the Think Tank Summit came as Africa was in the process of crafting policies to achieve growth and “build back better post-COVID-19”.
“This is a clarion call for Africa to accelerate the implementation of this agreement to be able to achieve the great implications of trade for development,” said Prof Urama.
The summit is exploring topics such as understanding the implications of COVID-19 on AfCFTA, determinants of country readiness in implementing the AfCFTA, identifying key capacity issues facing implementation of the AfCFTA, and building the capacity of frontline actors to effectively drive implementation of the AfCFTA.
Other topics up for discussion include building the capacity of SMEs, the role of think tanks in supporting implementation of the AfCFTA and establishing partnerships and co-ordination mechanisms to enhance country readiness.
When in full force, AfCFTA will create the largest free trade area in the world measured by the number of countries participating. The pact connects 1,3 billion people with a combined GDP of US$3,4 trillion.
AfCFTA will reduce tariffs among participating countries and cover policy areas such as trade facilitation and services, as well as regulatory measures such as sanitary standards and technical barriers to trade.