Expressing concerns over the low level of intra-African trade, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has emphasised the need for African countries to embrace the full benefits of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) to achieve economic integration.
The Africa Regional Head, UNCTAD, Dr. Joy Kategakwa, explained that the surest way for African economies to go is to grab the momentum of CFTA that the African Heads of States have agreed to in order to eliminate barriers to trade and create opportunities for African people in Africa.
Kategakwa during a dialogue session organised by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), tagged “Challenges of economic integration in West Africa”, said: “Regional integration is a cornerstone and a key path to get strength and numbers to create big amount share of the international trade. UNCTAD believes in the catalytic role that regional integration plays in economic development. We are here to help and also to learn the better structure to support the projects that we have.”
According to her, “Intra-African trade has huge potentials and this is why we have to work relentlessly to make it happen more but official figures tell us that it is in the range of 12 to 14 per cent, but of course we are not good at capturing what happens in informal trading which is a huge part of trade landscape in Africa. For me the figure is low but the opportunity is huge and this is why opportunities within ECOWAS, at the continental level must fully be embraced to bring into fusion the possibilities of opportunities that businesses in Africa have.”
She added that one of the biggest challenges affecting intra-African trade is lack of infrastructure which has crippled many business opportunities, noting that the CFTA will go a long way to address the challenge
“UNCTAD is very pleased to be associated with the dialogue organised by the LCCI because of its historical importance and also the strategic role Nigeria plays in the region and in West Africa. UNCTAD is very much supporting what countries can do to use trade as a tool for development,” she said.
She added, “We can do this by treaming down the cost of tariffs, rules and regulations, creating opportunities for African people to have businesses wherever it is in Africa. We are working with the African Union (AU), ECOWAS and member states to position them to better manage technically and analytically how the integration will be a success,” she said.
She noted that UNCTAD has a long credible experience in supporting countries to develop trade and trade related policies across different sectors, maintaining that it would prioritise trade and trade related policies with its regional operations in Africa.
Also speaking at the event, the representative of the Deputy Governor, Lagos State, Mrs. Idiat Adebule, the Director in charge of Administration and Human Resources, Mrs. Yetunde Odejaiye, said the theme of the event is apt and timely as it hinges on identifying the underlying challenges and prospects critical to achieving the fundamental objectives of promoting cooperation and integration under the auspices of ECOWAS.
She said as member states, African economies have common challenges and similar prospects, stressing the need to build on the gains already achieved in trade, commerce, transportation, communication amongst others.
“We also need to build enduring institutions that cuts across and remove any manifestation of ideological differences, colonial or political affiliations. We need to come together and focused to ensure that we turn these challenges to our gains. We need to put in place infrastructures and ensure adequate security to attract both local and Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs). African nations must continue to encourage entrepreneurship and allow more private concerns to create jobs, develop our industries in order to be self reliant. We should focus attention on critical change that will attract FDI and stimulate the economy. African nations must look inward and diversify their economy to meet the needs of the people in order to increase productivity, encourage industrialisation and remove all impediments that will inhibit the flow of economic activities within the region of member countries,” she said.
She pointed out that the current administration is committed to increase productivity and also encourage more private concerns in the economy, adding that plans are already on course to diversify the economy from the current economic situation.
“This is the way other nations must follow to help reduce poverty, unemployment and many other social cultural challenges facing our nation,” she stated.
The President, LCCI, Dr. Nike Akande, explained that integration is the main vehicle for boosting trade within the sub-region, saying that with integration, West African economies would be stronger and also be able to cope with the challenges of globalisation.
She added that in these days of raging forces of globalisation, individualistic disposition and outlook may not be sustainable, calling for the need for west African countries to broaden its perspectives and thinking beyond individual countries.
“We should begin to develop not only regional, but also continental and global outlook for our businesses and economies. This is one message we should all go home with from this forum. The recent setback in the European Union marked by the exit of Britain does not distract from the immense benefits and value of economic integration,” she said.
She pointed out that with a robust market of over 350 million people, significant benefits of economies of scaled would be enjoyed y businesses in the event of full market integration.
She said for too long, private sector organisations and institutions have confined themselves to the comfort of their individual countries, while the continent\’s counterparts in other parts of the world are advancing the frontiers of their economies and markets through integration.
“This is an opportunity to review the state of economic integration in our sub region, identify the challenges and proffer solutions, especially from the private sector perspective.
The representative of the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, the Director, Transport Planning of the Ministry of Transport, Mr. Solomon Ishaya, said one of the determinants of economic growth is exposure to international trade, saying that Nigeria as a coastal State under international conventions and agreement is bound to not only to develop its transport infrastructure for its consumption but to also factor in the interest of the landlocked neighbouring nations.
He said the ministry is responding to the growth and sophistication of international trade through unbundling of agencies under the ministry out of their previous corporation status as to allow private sector participation and investments while government regulates, stressing that this will make for rapid development of the ports, railways and waterway subsector.
He pointed out that the ministry to sign BASA agreement with the land lock countries where sometimes businessmen fly from Lagos to France before accessing Niger. He said the ministry embarked on several feasibility studies for new standard gauge rail lines to be developed through public private partnership, maintaining that the federal government will continually spearhead policies, programmes and projects that will facilitate seamless trade relations among ECOWAS states.