Regional Integration as a building block for the Multilateral Trading System
The signing of the Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) by African countries earlier this year was a momentous decision which could potentially alter the economic growth trajectory of the continent and allow it to play a greater role in the global economy.
Intra-trade among African countries is very low at 10 percent. Once implemented, the AfCFTA is expected to significantly increase the level of intra-African trade through substantially eliminating tariff and non-tariff barriers. It would facilitate trade by reducing red tape, simplifying and harmonising trade rules and regulations and reducing trade costs, which make African firms and products unproductive in international markets.
With Africa’s population estimated to grow to 2.4 billion in 2050 and 4 billion in 2100 and a projected substantial increase in the middle class across the continent, Africa should be able to attract significant foreign direct investment commensurate with its development challenges, particularly in the non-extractive sector. African firms would be in a strengthened position to participate in global value chains, especially considering its abundant natural resources.
Notwithstanding their commitment to regional integration as evidenced by the substantial number of regional economic communities in Africa and the overwhelming desire to ensure the success of the AfCFTA, African countries have remained steadfastly supportive of the WTO at a time of growing protectionism and opposition to the liberal trade order.
African countries believe that regionalism and multilateralism are not mutually exclusive, but they can rather reinforce each other. They are consciously aware that for Africa to achieve robust economic growth and sustainable development, it would be necessary for them to increase intra-trade as well as trade with key partners such as China, the European Union and the United States.
Like other parts of the developing world, Africa should be supported in its efforts to take advantage of trade to alleviate poverty and meet the sustainable development goals of the United Nations. This would require African countries to work closely with other countries, particularly the leading trading nations to reform and strengthen the WTO to make it capable of meeting the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.
Trade is not a zero-sum game and all countries working together and addressing each other’s sensitivities should adequately benefit from the rules-based multilateral trading system.
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