By Temitope Ponle
Abuja, Nov. 28, 2020 Economists have emphasised the importance of putting small scale traders at the heart of initiatives focused on resetting, retooling and restarting regional integration in Africa amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
They made the call at a joint webinar, organised by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and Korea Customs Service (KCS).
Participants considered service sectors, e-commerce, digital platforms and value chain development as critical factors for accelerating trade and investment in Africa against the backdrop of the global pandemic.
Sukhwan Roh, Commissioner of the Korea Customs Service said “history has demonstrated the success of countries and businesses that seize new opportunities during times of crisis.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed health and livelihoods of individuals across the world in less than a year.’’
Roh expressed the Korean government’s desire to “share all the achievements in system enhancement utilising new technologies with African countries.”
Participants further noted how fundamental regional integration was to the continent’s future economic prospects and to attracting foreign direct investment.
Anabel Gonzalez, Senior Fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics, said the pandemic had deepened pre-existing trade frictions within the continent.
Gonzalez said that it had also offered important growth opportunities and great stories of innovation and highlighted the importance of protecting Africa’s place in local value chains.
She said that there the need to “put small scale traders at the heart of the effort”.
She further urged governments to strengthen national agencies to provide support to small traders.
Meanwhile, Trudi Hartzenberg, the Executive Director of the Trade Law Center (TRALAC) said the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) created a new trade and integration reality “integrating unequal partners across the continent”.
“Trade facilitation enjoys specific focus within the AfCFTA, with digital, e-payments and e-commerce particularly important,” she said, citing a 2020 World Trade Organisation report.
The report emphasied education and healthcare as fundamental to industrialisation.
In his remark, Solomon Quaynor, Vice President, Infrastructure, Private Sector and Industrialisation, AfDB reiterated the bank’s support to the AfCFTA.
Quaynor recalled financing the set-up of its secretariat as well as supporting member countries with technical assistance to comply with a range of AfCFTA regulations.
Quaynor, however, warned that post-crisis recovery efforts were likely to be slow.
“The AfCFTA will not in one dramatic swoop alter existing commercial and economic realities on a vast scale.
“However, through strategic measures and the right investments, policy frameworks and political backing, intra-African trade will be enhanced.”