NEWS COMMENTARY ON HARNESSING BENEFITS FROM AFRICA’S FREE TRADE AGREEMENT
The African continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) is aimed at promoting intra-African trade so that member countries will be able to maximize their returns in trade relations among their members. It is in the light of this positive development that entrepreneurs in the country need to seize the opportunity offered by the Free Trade Area to expand their business to meet global standards. In so doing, all entrepreneurs will have to keep to applicable standards and make the issue of quality an essential part of their operations. The purpose of the Free Trade Area Agreement is to create a single continental market for goods and services which will lead to Continental Customs Union. It is also to expand intra-African trade through better harmonization and coordination of trade liberalization and facilitation regimes. Again, it aims to address the challenges of multiple forms of membership and expedite regional and continental processes. Furthermore, the Agreement seeks to enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level through the exploitation of opportunities for large scale production, continental market access and better re-allocation of resources. To be able to make a meaningful impact, the Free Trade Agreement will have to improve the quality as well as the quantity of intra-African trade. This is because its objective is primarily to engender more intra-African trade, which currently comprises just 15 percent of the continent’s total merchandise trade. When compared with intra-regional trade in other continents, this volume of trade is quite low.
In a keynote address, President Akufo-Addo explained that the Ghana-Beyond-Aid agenda ties in appropriately with the AfCFTA, pointing out that recent policies and programmes initiated and implemented by government is aligned with the purpose of the Continental Free Trade Area. He added that the AfCFTA is there to provide the vehicle that will allow Africans to trade among themselves in sophisticated programmes and offer huge opportunities for exploitation by Member countries. This in effect will provide the largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organization. What this means is that the free trade area for Africa would cover 1.2 billion people with a combined Gross Domestic Product of three trillion dollars across the 54 States that have signed up to the agreement. What Ghana needs to do is to organize itself strategically to take advantage of this new development so that the country would derive the maximum benefit from it.
A major concern of many observers is that it will allow the influx of sub-standard products into member countries. This concern can be addressed when we take a look at the theme chosen for the occasion which is “Harnessing the benefits of the African continental free trade area for a Ghana beyond aid”. Thus, to be able to exploit the opportunities that will come under the AfCFTA, member countries will have to pay attention to applicable standards. This is because standards will ensure that the right specifications are produced for the market. Secondly, it will ensure that goods produced are fit for purpose. Thirdly, it will ensure that the quality needs of consumers are met. Finally, it will also guarantee value for money. To take advantage of the opportunities, we will need to comply with the requirements of standards and also ensure thorough regulation of all transactions so that the best can be provided for the African environment to rake in the needed revenue and also guarantee quality products for member countries. This means that those who do not comply with standards cannot take advantage of the AfCFTA.
May AfCFTA bring about the needed trade revolution on the continent and facilitate accelerated development.
BY DR. KOFI AMPONSAH-BEDIAKO, DIRECTOR OF CORPORATE COMMUNICATION, GHANA STANDARDS AUTHORITY.