Small and medium-sized enterprises are key to growth in Africa. They account for around 80 per cent of the region’s businesses. These businesses usually struggle to penetrate more advanced overseas markets, but are well positioned to tap into regional export destinations and can use regional markets as stepping stones for expanding into overseas markets at a later point.
Another way in which small and medium-sized enterprises can benefit is by AfCFTA making it easier to supply inputs to larger regional companies, who then export. Before exporting cars overseas, for example, large automobile manufacturers in South Africa source inputs, including leather for seats from Botswana and fabrics from Lesotho, under the preferential Southern African Customs Union trading regime.
Analyses of the impact of AfCFTA at the household level suggest that the effect between male and female headed households is broadly quite balanced; both gain by differing degrees in different countries. However, women in particular can benefit from improvements to the challenges they face as informal cross-border traders.
Women are estimated to account for around 70 per cent of informal cross -border traders in Africa. When engaged in such an activity, women are particularly vulnerable to harassment, violence, confiscation of goods and even imprisonment.
3. How can the African Continental Free Trade Area provide business opportunities that will enhance industrialization in Africa in line with Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want?
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will cover a market of 1.2 billion people and a gross domestic product (GDP) of $2.5 trillion, across all 55 member States of the African Union.
It is also a highly dynamic market. The population of Africa is projected to reach 2.5 billion by 2050, at which point it will comprise 26 per cent of what is projected to be the world’s working age population, with an economy that is estimated to grow twice as rapidly as that of the developed world.
With average tariffs of 6.1 per cent, businesses currently face higher tariffs when they export within Africa than when they export outside it. AfCFTA will progressively eliminate tariffs on intra-African trade, making it easier for African businesses to trade within the continent and cater to and benefit from the growing African market.
Consolidating this continent into one trade area provides great opportunities for trading enterprises, businesses and consumers across Africa and the chance
to support sustainable development in the world’s least developed region. ECA estimates that AfCFTA has the potential both to boost intra-African trade by 52.3 per cent by eliminating import duties, and to double this trade if non-tariff barriers are also reduced.
African countries have a diversity of economic configurations and will be affected in different ways by AfCFTA. Nevertheless, the benefits from AfCFTA are widespread.
While African countries that are relatively more industrialized are well placed to take advantage of the opportunities for manufactured goods, less-industrialized countries can benefit from linking into regional value chains. Regional value chains involve larger industries sourcing their supplies from smaller industries across borders. AfCFTA makes the formation of regional value chains easier by reducing trade costs and facilitating investment.
Agricultural countries can gain from satisfying Africa’s growing food security requirements. The perishable nature of many agricultural food products means that they are particularly responsive to improvements in customs clearance times and logistics that are expected of AfCFTA.
The majority of African countries are classified as resource rich. Tariffs on raw materials are already low and so AfCFTA can do little to further promote these exports. However, by lowering intra-African tariffs on intermediates and final goods, AfCFTA will create additional opportunities for adding value to natural resources and for diversifying into new business areas.
The cost of being landlocked includes higher costs of freight and unpredictable transit times. AfCFTA provides particular benefits to these countries: in addition to reducing tariffs, the AfCFTA is set to include provisions on trade facilitation, transit and customs cooperation. It will nevertheless be vital that AfCFTA is supported with accompanying measures and policies.
Less-industrialized countries can benefit from the implementation of the programme for the Accelerated Industrial Development of Africa; domestic investments in education and training can ensure the necessary complementary skills.
Implementation of the Africa Mining Vision can complement AfCFTA, by helping resource-based economies to strategically diversify their exports into other African markets.
The Boosting Intra-African Trade (BIAT) Action Plan is the principal accompanying measure for AfCFTA. It outlines the areas in which investments are required, such as trade information and access to finance, to ensure that all African countries can benefit from AfCFTA.
African businesses, traders and consumers will no longer pay tariffs on a large variety of goods that they trade between African countries;
Traders constrained by non-tariff barriers, including overly burdensome customs procedures or excessive paperwork, will have a mechanism through which to seek the removal of such burdens;
Cooperation between customs authorities over product standards and regulations, as well as trade transit and facilitation, will make it easier for goods to flow between Africa’s borders;
Through the progressive liberalization of services, service suppliers will have access to the markets of all African countries on terms no less favourable than domestic suppliers;
Mutual recognition of standards, licensing and certification of service suppliers will make it easier for businesses and individuals to satisfy the regulatory requirements of operating in each other’s markets;
The easing of trade between African countries will facilitate the establishment of regional value chains in which inputs are sourced from different African countries to add value before exporting externally;
To protect against unanticipated trade surges, State Parties will have recourse to trade remedies to ensure that domestic industries can be safeguarded, if necessary;
A dispute settlement mechanism provides a rule-based avenue for the resolution of any disputes that may arise between State Parties in the application of the agreement;
Upon conclusion, the “Phase two” negotiations will provide a more conducive environment for recognizing African intellectual property rights, facilitating intra-African investment, and addressing anti-competitive challenges.
AfCFTA is a tool for private enterprise in Africa. It succeeds when it is leveraged by private
businesses, traders and consumers to trade across the continent.
(1) Awareness. Businesses need to be fully sensitized by government on the potential of AfCFTA.
(2) Partnerships. Partnering with governments by business is essential to ensure and facilitate investment in the accompanying measures necessary to complement AfCFTA.
(3) Private sector involvement. More active involvement of the private sector in terms of advocacy is required in order to ensure direct input into the AfCFTA negotiating institutions to ensure that AfCFTA is shaped to assist the business community to trade in Africa.
AfCFTA is an opportunity for development in Africa. But it must be wielded by private
enterprise. Through doing so, businesses can benefit from the great opportunities that the continent has to offer, and contribute to its sustainable growth and development.