The private sector in the East African Community has joined counterparts in Eastern and Southern Africa to jointly push their interests in the African Continental Free Trade Agreement-AfCFTA.
The East African Business Council, the Business Council of COMESA and the SADC Business Council have officially launched the African Tripartite Business Council to spearhead the inclusion of private sector policy proposals into the negotiations of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement and the African Tripartite Free Trade Area.
The negotiations have largely been conducted by the governments, yet the private sector says that integration is all about trade, and the private sector has to take a leading role. This is one of the resolutions from the Consultative Meeting of Regional Business Councils on the Implementation of the continental agreement with support from TradeMark East Africa.
“The African Tripartite Business Council will put forward joint private sector policy positions to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement Secretariat in Ghana and Tripartite Ministerial Council Meetings in order to accelerate the implementation of the Agreements,” said John Bosco Kalisa, the Chief Executive Officer of the East African Business Council.
Kalisa called upon the Member States from the three blocs to ratify the Tripartite Free Trade Area to achieve the threshold of 14 ratifications required to enable the Agreement to enter into force. The Tripartite Free Trade Area proposes free trade agreements signed in 2015 in Egypt to create a free trade area comprising 27 countries in Comesa, EAC and SADC.
The private sector in the three blocs says their interests are not taken care of when such agreements are being negotiated which negotiations are influenced by large multinationals, especially on issues to do with rules of origin and standards.
“It is important for the private sector to be knowledgeable of the trade instruments of Rules of Origin, Standards and Dispute Settlement Mechanism under the AfCFTA,” said Dickson Poloji, the CEO of the COMESA Business Council. He urged that the implementation committees of the AfCFTA should be co-chaired by the private sector.
Peter Varndell the CEO of the SADC Business Council said that despite the 2015 agreement, there has been a lack of coordinated approaches to issues that affect the private sector operators in Africa. “The African Tripartite Business Council will improve coordination and development of positions on AfTCFA policy formulation and negotiations,” he said.
Dennis Karera, the EABC Vice Chairman said that trading under AfCFTA is the answer for Africa to respond better to external shocks of conflict, COVID-19 and climate change.
Nadia Uwamahoro, the Managing Director of Data Systems urged for the finalization of the AfCFTA protocol on digital trade to promote youths and the emergence of African-owned e-commerce platforms. The sector leaders also discussed the need for alternative financing mechanisms for the private sector, as all the countries cite a lack of access to affordable credit.
The integration of the African trade, according to them has been made more important by the two recent unforeseen occurrences that disrupted global trade. The African countries, for example, depend on imports for food and energy and have been hurt by higher global energy prices due to the Russia-Ukraine war.
According to the EABC, up to 17 per cent of food imports for East African countries is wheat and approximately half of wheat imports are from Russia and Ukraine.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine crisis have disrupted global supply chains. As a result, firms and nations are moving away from global to domestic and regional supply chains. We have to leverage the AfCFTA to create regional value chains,” said Rodgers Mukwaya, head of the Sub-regional Office for Eastern Africa at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
Dr Mukwaya urged African Central Banks to control inflation without adversely affecting economic growth. Stuart Mwesigwa, EABC Board Member wondered why the continental agreements are taking longer to implement.