Experts review Progress and set Future Goals for advancing Intra-African Trade

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The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) successfully hosted two Expert Group Meetings (EGMs) in Douala from 19-22 June to assess the implementation of the Boosting Intra-African Trade (BIAT) framework and to review the 11th edition of the flagship Assessment of Regional Integration in Africa (ARIA-11) report.

These hybrid events, held in collaboration with the African Union Commission (AUC) and the African Development Bank (AfDB), brought together 30 experts from various sectors.

The BIAT framework, adopted by the African Union in 2012, focuses on seven key clusters: trade policy, trade facilitation, productive capacity, trade-related infrastructure, trade finance, trade information, and factor-market integration. It aims to address trade barriers, enhance Africa’s global trade position, and promote sustainable socio-economic development.

ARIA-11, themed “Delivering on the African Economic Community: Towards a Continental Customs Union and Common Market,” evaluates the progress of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and outlines steps towards achieving a continental customs union and common market.

Francis Ikome, Chief of the Regional Integration Section of ECA’s Regional Integration and Trade Division, emphasized the importance of integration: “Integration is an essential policy tool for Africa’s survival in the competitive global environment. The AfCFTA, with its market of over 1.3 billion people, offers opportunities for industrialization, value addition, and structural transformation.”

Experts discussed BIAT’s impact on intra-African trade flows, noting a 13% growth between 2012 and 2022.

Mundia Kabinga, Senior Lecturer at the University of Cape Town, called for further analysis, while Joseph Baricako, ECA Economic Affairs Officer, and Prof. Garth le Pere of the University of Pretoria highlighted areas for improvement and the benefits of trade facilitation, respectively.

Africa’s share of world exports remains at 3%, underscoring the need for increased intra-African trade and industrialization. Currently, intra-African exports and imports are 17.8% and 14.6%, respectively, much lower than in Europe and Asia. Mr. Ikome and Prof. James Thuo Gathii of Loyola University Chicago School of Law proposed structural and financial adjustments to address this gap.

“Africa faces many barriers to integration, including infrastructure and financing issues. The BIAT framework aims to address these barriers and ensure a smooth integration process,” noted Mr. Ikome.

Participants agreed on the need to build on existing structures to achieve the objectives of a common market or customs union. Successes in regions like Central Africa and OHADA were highlighted, and these findings will be reflected in the ARIA-11 report.

Brian Mureverwi, Senior Trade Advisor to the AUC, stated: “The outcome of the first session is to develop another version of the BIAT Action Plan and a framework document, ARIA-11, to be presented to the AU Heads of State and Government for endorsement.”

Participants also visited the Cameroon National Shippers’ Council (CNSC), where Stephen Karingi, ECA’s Director of Regional Integration and Trade, praised Cameroon’s efforts in AfCFTA implementation. Mr. Auguste Mbappe Penda, General Manager of CNSC, highlighted Cameroon’s role in promoting sub-regional integration and intra-African trade.

As the meetings concluded, the resolve was clear: Africa’s path to economic integration is paved with opportunities and challenges that require collective action and innovative solutions.

The ECA, AUC, AfDB, and UNCTAD, along with regional and national stakeholders, remain committed to fostering a cohesive and prosperous African market. With the insights gained and partnerships strengthened during these EGMs, the continent is better poised to harness the full potential of the AfCFTA, drive sustainable development, and secure a competitive position in the global economy.


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