The Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has said that intra-African trade could generate more than $70 billion in economic development, surpassing the amount received in development assistance.
Silver Ojakol, Chief of Staff of the AfCFTA Secretariat, made this statement during the 2023 Regional Integration Issues Forum held in Accra, Ghana. The RIIF serves as a sensitization platform and interface for stakeholders involved in regional integration and continental trade initiatives.
The 2023 RIIF aimed to enhance awareness of the AfCFTA and its advantages for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) while also bolstering the capacity of SMEs to engage in intra-African trade.
In a statement released in Abuja, the AfCFTA emphasized that substantial economic gains could be achieved if SMEs collaborate and adopt the principles of the AfCFTA to overcome trade barriers.
Ojakol, speaking on behalf of AfCFTA Secretary General Wamkele Mene, highlighted the significance of the AfCFTA for SMEs, emphasizing that the agreement was not designed exclusively for large corporations. He stated, “The agreement was designed and framed for the women and young men who face daily challenges when crossing neighboring borders to trade in goods and services.”
He further pointed out that if African countries were to increase their trade among themselves by just one percentage point, they could generate $70 billion, surpassing the $58 billion provided by donors as development assistance.
Additionally, Prof. Lehlohonolo Tlou, the Executive Director of the Centre for Regional Integration in Africa, emphasized the importance of capacity building and equipping SMEs with the necessary skills and knowledge to overcome intra-Africa trade barriers and produce the goods needed.
Tlou highlighted that despite 60 years since the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity and the African Union, intra-African trade remains relatively low at 16 percent. He noted that Africa still produces goods it does not consume and consumes products it does not produce.
The 2023 RIIF conference was convened to raise awareness of the benefits of the AfCFTA, build capacity for SMEs to access regional markets, and encourage SMEs to explore partnerships to establish regional value chains.