Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Trudi Hartzenberg on Africa Day – 25 May 2011


Trudi Hartzenberg on Africa Day – 25 May 2011


Today marks the founding of the Organisation of African Unity which is now known as the African Union. This occasion provides an opportunity to reflect on key issues pertinent to Africa’s development.

Unemployment, poverty and related challenges still dominate the African agenda. Significant roll out of infrastructure development programmes (including transport, communications, water and energy) is beginning to address not only key supply-side challenges, but also fundamental aspects of the development deficit in many African countries. Many challenges still await concerted remedial effort.

The Trade Law Centre for Southern Africa (tralac) builds trade law and policy capacity, in East and Southern Africa, to enhance the trade-related capacity of these countries, specifically so that trade can contribute to development. From our perspective the opportunity set for Africa currently holds significant promise for better development outcomes for Africa. Africa’s resource base is being increasingly recognized as important by not only developed countries, but also by the fast growing developing countries such as China, India and Brazil. Competition for Africa’s resources is definitely increasing. But Africa is no longer viewed simply as a source of important natural resources, but also an important and growing market for the products and services of global producers.

These developments are begging strategic responses from African countries.

Responses should include firstly, the development of well-governed, capacitated nation states. Building national capacity (skills and institutions, both in the narrow sense of organizations but also more broadly in the sense of the rules of the game, as well as infrastructure) to manage economy and society are simply non-negotiables for the modern, democratic state seeking enhanced development outcomes. Recent developments on the continent related to the promotion of democratic governance are important in this regard. Neglect of, or disregard for accountability, transparency and robust democratic processes will have consequences for those in power.

Regional integration has long been recognized as an important African strategy for development, given small states, small markets and a myriad of infrastructural challenges. However regional integration will only bring development benefits if the regional agendas are addressing the real challenges and opportunities; if appropriate policy, legal and institutional developments are undertaken, and if agreements, treaties, protocols and other legal instruments are taken seriously and effectively implemented (recalling that much implementation takes place at national level).

African countries need to develop a strategy for their global integration, and for specific economic and diplomatic relationships beyond Africa. Countries such as China and India have clear strategic intent in their engagement with African countries (and are increasingly competing with one another and other global players on the African continent). How can African countries leverage their bargaining power vested in, for example, their resource base to promote their development outcomes? How can African countries contribute to the development of effective global governance? Can they do this through strategic partnerships, or as an African collective in certain fora?

tralac recognizes the importance of building policy, legal and institutional capacity in African countries, so that international trade can contribute to development. We consider that the most serious challenges to Africa’s capacity to trade effectively lie not so much in border issues, such as tariffs, but increasingly in the realm of supply-side issues. These supply-side issues include standards and rules of origin as they feature on the trade-in-goods agenda, but even more so the supply-side issues cover new generation trade issues; such as services, investment and competition policy. Effectively African countries need to develop their capacity to produce tradeables competitively.

Indeed the competitiveness conundrum that shackles so many African businesses, provides a useful focal point from where to assess important policy, legal and institutional imperatives for development. For example poor quality, unreliable and costly services such as transport and communication hamper all business activities, as well as keeping citizens from improving their development status. These are the kind of issues that should feature not only at national level in development strategies, but also on Africa’s regional integration agenda.



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