Regional integration remains key to transforming Africa’s fragmented economies, says Stephen Karingi, Director of the Regional Integration and Trade Division at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
African countries should therefore harness the opportunities embedded in integration initiatives such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to foster post-Covid19 economic recovery and transformation.
Mr. Karingi made the remarks during the presentation of an assessment of the progress of regional integration in Africa during the expert group meeting at the ongoing 54th session of the Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development (CoM2022) in Dakar, Senegal.
He said that while commendable progress had been made in advancing integration agendas, challenges remained.
“With regard to trade integration, progress has been made in boosting intra-African trade, such as the adoption of industrialization policies and strategies. But Africa continues to trade more with the outside world than with itself,” Mr. Karingi noted.
The ECA Director noted that macroeconomic integration and convergence were key to accelerating intra-regional trade. Five regional economic communities (COMESA, EAC, ECCAS, ECOWAS and SADC) already have primary macroeconomic convergence criteria.
But “Africa’s integration and socio-economic development are hampered by huge infrastructure gaps. Integration of production on the continent remains uneven and weak,” he added.
During the meeting, delegates from Egypt, Namibia, Burkina Faso and Benin raised concerns about the continent’s slow pace of integration and the continent’s preparedness to deal with the consequences of Covid19 and the Ukrainian crisis.
A delegate from Egypt asked how the Ukrainian crisis had affected the prices of basic commodities such as wheat and fertilizers and whether African countries could unite their efforts in the international market.
Mr. Karingi acknowledged that the Ukrainian crisis had led to an increase in the price of fertilizers. One suggestion was that countries like Morocco, Kenya and Algeria could accept fertilizer orders from other African countries and offer competitive prices for purchases.
On why African countries are still competing with each other when they should be integrating since the launch of the AfCFTA – a question raised by a delegate from Namibia – Mr. Karingi said that the integration process was hampered by infrastructural, financial and political difficulties. such as the rules of origin which are a challenge for an open common market.
“The solutions offered by Africa should survive the current shocks facing the continent and face future challenges. Political will must be addressed and dialogue within countries (must be encouraged),” Mr. Karingi said.
Mr. Karingi said that a concerted effort was needed from all RECs, key partners and stakeholders to address the challenges of integration.
African countries, he said, should implement the AfCFTA to build the resilience of African countries to withstand future economic shocks and maintain sustainable growth in the post-Covid 19 era.
Mr. Karingi said that ECA would continue to support member States, RECs, AUC and the AfCFTA Secretariat in the implementation of the agreement and other integration frameworks such as BIATS, the FMP protocol; and would continue to provide technical support, including for ARIA X and ZLECAf-CER interface reports.