Participants at the 13th African Economic Conference called on African countries to leverage the full range of their strengths and resources to accelerate the region’s drive towards continental integration.
Indeed, the experts agreed that a self-reliant approach that emphasizes intra-African trade, would not only help deepen regional economic integration, but also contribute significantly to sustainable economic growth, job creation, poverty reduction, and inflow of foreign direct investment.
Themed, “Regional and Continental Integration for Africa’s Development,” the 2018 AEC, the conference jointly organised by the United Nations Development Programme, UN Economic Commission for Africa, and the African Development Bank (AfDB), follows the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) eight months ago in Kigali.
Speaking during the opening ceremony, Rwanda’s Minister of State in charge of Economic Planning, Claudine Uwera, said: “Africa’s integration is no longer a choice. It’s a must for the continent and its people. To become the global player that it deserves to be, Africa should integrate speedily.”
The AfCTA signed in March 2018, by 44 countries is seen as the most ambitious effort to form what has the potential to be the world’s biggest free trade agreement, which aims to create a single continental market of goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments across Africa.
Estimates are that if Africa were to increase its share of global trade from two to three per cent, the one percentage point increase would result in an annual additional income of about $70 billion.
UNDP Regional Director for Africa, Ms. Ahunna Eziakonwa, observed: “African countries need to collaborate more effectively in devising public policies that can create skills, foster innovation and technological advancement, facilitate labour mobility and access to productive assets including land and finance.”
Speaking to the urgency of ratifying the AfCFTA, ECA Deputy Executive Secretary, Ms. Giovanie Biha, said: “It’s time to ratify the AfCFTA. The more ambitious the liberalisation, the higher will be the gains in terms of increase in GDP and exports.”
The need for African economies to adopt innovative approaches to finance integration and especially infrastructure development was also underscored.
The Director-General, AfDB, Gabriel Negatu, stated: “We are committed to continue supporting Africa’s integration agenda for it will lead to sustained growth, and allow the continent to withstand external pressures; enable African companies to grow and become global giants.”
AEC 2018 debates are expected to focus on four main themes: Conceptual underpinning of Africa’s integration; infrastructure and institution for Africa’s integration; leveraging private sector for Africa’s integration; and partnerships for effective integration that address impediments to Africa’s regional and continental integration.