EAC Businesses Not Ready for Continental Free Trade Area-Experts

There are fears by some countries that are less advanced economically than others could fail to benefit from the arrangement, the reason why many have not yet ratified it.

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Business leaders and experts have cast doubt on whether the East African Community will benefit from the African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA, that took effect January 1 this year.

The AfCTA is a trading arrangement supported by 54 African countries to create a single market, deepening the economic integration of the continent, and aiding the movement of capital and people, among others, facilitating investment.

At least half of the countries have ratified the agreement. However, there are fears by some countries that are less advanced economically than others could fail to benefit from the arrangement, the reason why many have not yet ratified it.

Others feel obliged to protect their local industries from an anticipated influx of imports from partner countries, at the expense of local products.

In the East African Community, for example, Tanzania is yet to ratify the deal, while other countries have not yet put in place local or national measures to ensure that the citizens benefit.

The Secretary-General of the SADC Youth Council, Mansouza Kingu blamed his country, Tanzania for being an example of the countries lacking the political will towards the continental treaty, despite recently showing interest in integration affairs.

But he also blames the leadership of the countries in the region for not taking the treaty to the people, wondering how then they will take up the opportunities. 

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He was speaking at the EAC workshop aimed at enhancing the participation of women in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). 

EAC Deputy Secretary-General for Productive and Social Sectors, Christophe Bazivamo, said that the goal of the EAC was to ensure that women in the region were fully equipped and capable of accessing and exploiting the numerous opportunities and benefits that accrue from the AfCFTA initiative, adding that the continental free trade area provides significant business opportunities for the region.

“We have now almost finalized the submission of our tariff offers which conform to the agreed modalities in addition to the schedules of liberalization of trade in services.

We have also prepared a draft strategy for the implementation of the Agreement, which takes into account the need for capacity building. It is presently under consideration by the Partner States,” said Bazivamo.

It was noted that women dominate the cross-border trade between many African countries, but that not much has been done to prepare them to take advantage of the intended opportunities from the treaty.

Unfortunately, these women are mostly small-scale traders and informal too.

This means there is a risk that when the AfCFTA takes full effect, traders from other countries will easily invade these countries and disrupt the trade with imports into the region.      

Anne Gantha, an international trade advisor at the Regal Africa Group says any kind of progress will follow the formalization of these small-scale traders and to build their capacity to export.

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Asked what should then be done, Gantha challenged the government to as much as possible, involve women leaders in policy formulation processes, create avenues for accessing capital and give them technical guidance among others.  These should enable women to compete across the regions.

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The Director of Trade at the EAC Secretariat, Alhaj Rashid Kiboa, agreed that there are still lots of work to do in the region, calling on all the countries’ leaderships to get their economies ready, in order not to be left behind by other regional economic blocs. 

However, he also challenged the business community in the meantime to focus on developing what products and services they will present for trade. 

Otherwise, good government policies might offer nothing when the private sector is not productive. 

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