“Societies that enact free trade policies create their own economic dynamism--fostering a wellspring of freedom, opportunity, and prosperity that benefits every citizen.” - Denise Froning
On the 21st of March forty-four member states of the African Union signed the Kigali Declaration, which establishes an African Continental Free Trade Agreement. This is a vision for a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business, persons and investments.
A free trade agreement of this kind is envisaged to bolster intra-African markets. The Abuja Treaty (1991) set a great precedent by establishing an African Economic Community.
Per the United Nations, only 10.2% of trade in 2010 was internal.This is not conducive for achieving the goals of the Africa Union's Agenda 2063, a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years. In order for the agreement to deliver the promises of Agenda 2063, it is important that the agreement fulfil a number of other functions.
Every major development requires solutions to problems at hand. African countries will need opportunities to establish efficient and effective borders, serve increased energy needs, maintain ports and harbours and improve ICT infrastructure and transportation services.
The agreement should strengthen African markets in cases where businesses wish to amalgamate some functions or forming consortiums. This will help weak markets to survive externally, if and when they are given proper support.
Organizations stand more to gain by working together. Freedom of movement and exposure to others can boost skills and organizational capacities.
Variety of products and services
The free movement of goods and services could promote a variety of products on shelves across the continent. Such exchanges are vital to prevent market saturations and dumping due to selling at losses. The community can also benefit by enjoying products that are not easily available to them, instead of having to import from other continents at high cost.
The demand for products and services such as financial services, transportation, energy, information communications technology and construction may increase dramatically. This will attract international investors because it is an opportunity to expand their portfolios. Cutting import and export costs may also embolden African economies.
Access to global markets
Synergy on the continent needs to grant African businesses greater access to global markets.
The game-changers in this whole equation are Nigeria and South Africa, who are currently outside of it. Lagos reserved its signature, stating that it needed “further consultation with local stakeholders”. Lagos has reserved its signature for valid reasons; local stakeholders like the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria have lauded President Buhari's decision. This was despite the Federal Executive Council’s approval to sign it. They argue that it will amount to dumping and weakening of the (already weakened) manufacturing sectors.
South African trade unions are also siding with Nigerian stakeholders, arguing that job losses can be incurred. In order to solve this stalemate, the AU and the national governments should negotiate. Most importantly the AU should assist governments in restructuring their internal processes in order to implement effectively. At this moment, Parliaments have a larger role to play as this is subject to their approval prior to ratification.
For socio-economic transformation to be expedited, there needs to be a common agenda. If we hope to achieve anything like the European Union, lessons need to be learned from it. There needs to be synergy and, most importantly, political will. African leaders have a tendency to agree on laudable policies without practical actions.
As author S. Knowington argues, “Society, and more importantly our leaders, should wake up and smell the coffee. They should be mindful of the fact that no matter how fancy policies sound they need to be implemented at the end of the day. Policies should not be justified, they should be exercised.” We are yet to see the commitment of African leaders towards building a better Africa, the Africa We Want.