Harmonisation of Regulatory Framework, Key to African Trade Integration

By Emma Okonji

Experts in regional trade from across Africa and Europe have called for harmonisation of regulatory framework across the 54 African countries that are driving the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA), in order to have successful trade integration among member state.

They advised policy makers to develop clear regulatory policies that resonate with better regulatory framework for AFCFTA.

They also called for reduction in customs duties across African countries and increase in the adoption of technology to enable AFCFTA succeed. They were of the view that reduction of Customs duties would increase trade volume among African nations.

The experts who spoke at a webinar panel session organised recently by Webb Fontaine, suggested a unified tax regime across AFCFTA member countries and called for the political will of African governments to implement some of the trading instruments that Customs has developed, in order to ensure the success of AFCFTA.

Tagged: Technology and Trade in Africa-Challenges and Opportunities, the discussants called on all AFCFTA member countries to consider the implementation of the national single window for trade and investment, and to reduce the number of security personnel at the borders, in order to facilitate faster movements of goods across borders.

Analysing the different operating hours at the borders of different African countries, Executive Director, Corporate Services, Malawi Revenue Authority, Agnes Katsonga Phiri, with over 40 years experience in Customs and Excise, said uniformity of the different operating hours, remained key to achieving huge success in regional trade.

She advised on the implementation of some of the policies of World Trade Organisation (WTO) on trade and investment, in order to improve trade within Africa, adding that AFCFTA will open opportunities for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) within the African trade region.

Trade Facilitation Specialist, Kenya Revenue Authority, Fridah Kimani, one of the panelists with over seven years experience in Customs and Excise, said: “Regulatory framework across African countries differs from country to country, and this is a challenge for smooth trade across Africa, hence the need for harmonisation of regulatory framework.”

According to her, AFCFTA would enhance trade integration in Africa and reduce poverty among Africans.

“Africa has large population of 1.3 billion people, and 70 per cent of the population is made up of youths, which I think is an advantage in inspiring innovation among African youths. With 54 countries under the AFrican Continental Free Trade Agreement, coming together to have a single market place, will amount to a massive market and an avenue to promote trade integration among African countries.

For the past 50 years, Africans have been involved in disjointed trades that were in silos and this has not helped in growing the manufacturing industry in Africa. Intra-AFrican trade accounts for only 17 per cent, whereas intra-trade within Europe, accounts for over 60 per cent, and 59 per cent in Asia,” Faridah said.

Comptroller, Modernisation ICT and Risk Management, Nigerian Customs Service, Adekunlè Oloyede, who also spoke at the panel session, said: “For AFCFTA to succeed, African need robust automation system across all 54 countries driving the AFCFTA initiative, in order to have a better trade interface between trade partners. If some African countries are fully automated, and some are not, then it will generate trade barriers.”

Director of Institutional Reforms at Webb Fontaine, and Senior Regional Coordinator, World Bank, Michel Zarnowiecki, warned drivers of AFCFTA not to make the same mistake made by the European single market that lost €50 billion in one year at the start of the integrated trade in Europe.

“When we started the European single market, it opened opportunities for trade integration among European nations and I am very optimistic that Africa will experience such integration though the AFCFTA arrangement.

“AFCFTA must learn from the European market experience to avoid the pitfall where the European market lost €50 billion revenue in a year because some groups erroneously pushed for the European single market to boycott Customs in order to achieve regional integration.”

He therefore advised that Africa must factor in the role of Customs in the AFCFTA plan, in order to support successful regional integration.

Source: This Day