Harare – “I think many of us long to see that wonderful and golden label – ‘made in Africa’ – not made anywhere else in the world. This is critical if we are to change the distorted trade relationship that exists between African countries and the rest of the world.”
With these words, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa captured the ethos behind the second Intra-African Trade Fair, a key pillar of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), in Durban on November 15, 2021.
Organised by the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) in collaboration with the African Union and the AfCFTA Secretariat, the Intra-African Trade Fair brought together the continent’s political leadership and buyers and sellers from across the world to share trade, investment and market information; as well as trade finance and trade facilitation solutions designed to support intra-African trade and economic integration.
Themed “Building Bridges for a successful AfCFTA”, the political leadership was unanimous in the call to strengthen industrialisation to make Africa the factory of the world.
The opening ceremony of the fair, which was scheduled to run through to November 20, was addressed by several Heads of States: Ramaphosa, (South Africa), Lazarus Chakwera (Malawi), Hakainde Hichilema, (Zambia); Lazarus Chakwera, (Malawi); Emmerson Mnangagwa (Zimbabwe), Hussein Mwinyi (representing Samia Suluhu Hassan of Tanzania), and Muhammadu Buhari (Nigeria). Also present were Olusegun Obasanjo (former Nigerian President and Chair of the AITF Advisory Council), and Rwandan Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente, (representing President Paul Kagame).
President Ramaphosa said: “This Trade Fair is about building bridges. It is about connecting countries. It is about connecting people as well. Now Africa is taking concrete steps to write its own economic success story and this Intra-African Trade Fair is part of that story. Africa is opening up new fields of opportunity.”
To this end, he urged the public and private sectors to collaborate so that the world sees more “Made in Africa” labels, adding “this is critical if we are to change the distorted trade relationship that exists between African countries and the rest of the world. We can no longer have a situation where Africa exports raw materials and imports finished goods with those materials. By promoting trade in Africa, we strengthen our own industrial base and produce goods for ourselves and for each other.”
In a rousing address, President Ramaphosa also said, “At first, Europeans traded in African lives, carrying millions of slaves across the Atlantic to produce the wealth of their new-found colonies. Then, with the realisation of Africa’s vast raw materials, colonial powers turned to the extraction of Africa’s minerals and agricultural products.
“Much of the economic storyline of colonialism persists to this day. Now Africa is taking concrete steps to write its own economic success story. It is opening up new fields of opportunity.
“We can no longer have a situation where Africa exports raw materials and imports finished goods made with those materials. We can longer have a situation where the resources of Africa provide employment and add value in other economies, while so many of our people live in poverty and conditions of under-development.
“By promoting trade between African countries we are strengthening the continent’s industrial base and ensuring that we produce goods for ourselves and each other. We need, as Africans, to resist the temptation to simply become transhipment centres, adding only limited industrial value in Africa.”
SADC Chairperson, President Chakwera of Malawi was also in fine fettle, as he outlined practical steps towards advancing the “Made in Africa” agenda in a sustainable way that would have a meaningful impact on ordinary people’s lives.
“We must make our border procedures intra-African; our visa policies intra-African; our tax regimes intra-African; our transport infrastructure intra-African; our bus-line, rail- line, and airline routes intra-African; our electricity distribution intra-African; our fibre and broadband connectivity intra-Africa; our investment policies intra- African; our industrialisation and urbanisation drives intra-African; and our shops intra-African,” he said.
Zambian President Hichilema talked up Africa’s “enormous (internal) potential in trade investment”.
“Our countries are endowed with rich resources which can be used to create sustainable value chains. The African narrative must move from poverty, instability to investment, trade and indeed stability. We can focus our limited resources towards trade and investment and offer opportunities to our people, especially young people,” he said.
And President Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe also underscored the centrality of Africa’s young people in the continent’s industrialisation.
“The youth dividend on the continent further provides immense possibilities for accelerated employment, empowerment and wealth creation through increased production, productivity and trade. In our quest to ‘build bridges for a successful African Continental Free Trade Area’, it is imperative that the economic empowerment in our countries facilitates the requisite ecosystems to support youth start-ups and women-owned businesses,” he said.
Mr Wamkele Mene, Secretary-General of the AfCFTA Secretariat, observed: “The next wave of investment in African markets must focus on productive sectors of Africa’s economy in order to drive the continent’s industrial development in the decades to come.”
Professor Benedict Oramah, the Afreximbank president evoked the memory of Ghana’s Founding President, Kwame Nkrumah, in urging greater continental integration.
AfCFTA creates a market of more than 1,2 billion people and a combined GDP of US$3 trillion. The agreement to create the world’s largest free trade area has been signed by 54 of the AU’s 55 member states (Eritrea is yet to join).
Africa has historically had low internal trade, which has had a negative impact on job creation and industrialisation. For example, in 2017, intra-African exports were 16,6 percent of total exports, compared with 68 percent in Europe, and 59 percent in Asia.
AfCFTA will work towards boosting these figures via a continental customs union; elimination of tariffs on 90 percent of intra-Africa goods; easing movement of capital and people between countries; facilitating external investment; and reducing non-tariff barriers.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa says the agreement has potential to increase intra-African trade by over 50 percent, while the World Bank projects AfCFTA could add US$76 billion in income yearly to the rest of the world.