Onwards and upwards

19 December 2019
Arancha Gonzalez, International Trade Centre

The phenomenon of ‘Africa rising’ has been cited so often in the past few decades that it risks becoming a bit of a cliché. But the reality shows there is justification for this continued optimism. In July 2019 leaders of African Union nations took a decisive step toward realizing their economic aspirations with the formal launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

In this special double issue of Trade Forum we turn the spotlight on what this exciting development will mean for the people of the continent. The scene is set by Fekitamoeloa ‘Utoikamanu, Under Secretary-General and High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, who highlights how the AfCFTA has been crafted to dovetail with existing multilateral plans for Africa. Now that the AfCFTA has moved into its operational phase, David Luke, coordinator of the African Trade Policy Centre at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, guides us through some of the next steps now underway. A key theme will be the negotiations on trade in services and for an overview of this we have Anesu Gamanya from Geneva’s Graduate Institute and Richard Adu-Gyamfi of the International Trade Centre (ITC), as well as the chief economist of the World Trade Organization, Robert Koopman.

Can it be assumed that Africa’s new era of open trade will make it an attractive destination for private-sector investment? Partly, argues Kaled Sherif of the African Development Bank, but to maximize the opportunities African governments must also improve domestic economic governance and regulation. From the private sector side of the fence, Farid Fezoua, chief executive of General Electric Africa, looks at the implications for infrastructure investment, while Anne-Elvire Esmel of the AfroChampions Initiative describes how business can leverage the AfCFTA as an investment opportunity. Hippolyte Fofack of the African Export-Import Bank considers what the AfCFTA will mean for Africa’s place on the global scene.

But the real story of the AfCFTA will be the opportunities it affords women, young people and poor communities. We take a look at the youth dimension with Ibrahima Nour Eddine Diagne, president of the African Performance Institute, and Gathige Wa Maina of Youth Motion Kenya, while ITC’s Aissatou Diallo and Ruben Phoolchund consider exactly how the benefits of open trade will be distributed to the widest possible extent.

Finally, we look at what the AfCFTA will mean for Africa’s women with a special interview with one of its architects, Ambassador Albert M. Muchanga, Commissioner for Trade and Industry of the African Union Commission.

This edition also contains news from the trade and development community,
a look at the latest publications and rundown of important events. There is a look back at the ITC SheTrades Global event on women’s economic empowerment, the Youth Entrepreneurship and Self-Employment Forum and the World Export Development Forum, held in November 2019. At this suite of events, all with a focus on AfCFTA implementation, it was clear that ‘Africa rising’ is not just a prediction.