Prosper Ndlovu, Analysis
IT is the third month now since the historic African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement came into force but the real benefits could take longer to be felt by ordinary citizens and small businesses.
Commendable political will has been exhibited by regional governments prior to commencement of official trading and through subsequent ratification of the agreement.
However, a range of factors still need to be fine-tuned and properly aligned before Zimbabwe and the entire region could enjoy the fruits of an integrated free trade Africa.
Scaling up production and enhancing product competitiveness, investing in quality and standards, technology and submission of tariff offers in line with national interest by relevant authorities, remain key outstanding points.
Outside of media headlines on the subject, hotel conferences, seminars and workshops, more still needs to be done to raise meaningful awareness and building capacity for a majority of the country’s entrepreneurs and established businesses who stand to benefit more from the deal.
The AfCFTA deal drives towards creation of a single liberalised market for goods and services facilitated by the free movement of persons across borders.
Its full implementation is expected to be a game changer for Africa and contribute significantly to building structural transformation that will reshape markets and economies across the region.
Trade experts say the Agreement will not only increase continental trade but will also help build regional value chains that boost productive capacity thereby facilitating the production of African made goods.
As governements focus on reviewing their policies to support the AfCFTA, big corporates and their micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) should use this window to engage more effectively over cross-border trading implications under the free-trade area.
African entrepreneurs, particularly women-led businesses, need to fully understand how the AfCFTA can be of direct benefit to them.
This makes strengthening of youth and women entrepreneur’s capacity to take advantage of the single market and providing opportunities to engage in technical conversations, more urgent.
Such interventions will not only generate confidence in the AfCFTA among the African citizenry, but will also establish a sense of ownership, thereby ensuring the long-term impact and sustainability of the historic trade agreement.
Many budding entreprenuers, especially those outside major cities who have less access to mainstream media, still have limited knowledge about the deal, and are not equiped on how to tap into its opportunities.
This exposes the level of capacity building gap and general awareness shortcomings about the deal, which requires concerted effort to ensure the country benefits more.
There is a greater need for private sector players, through their various member organisations, working closely with the Government, to come up with a deliberate strategy towards capacity building and sharing critical knowledge about the AfCFTA to entrepreneurs.
A sectoral appraoch in this regard would go a long way, taking advantage of the existing networks within businesses along diverse value chains.
No doubt the AfCFTA is critical for Zimbabwe as it positions the country within the broader economic regional integration agenda, which seeks to bring about a common destiny for African Union member states.
This is why the Government swiftly signed and ratified the AfCFTA Agreement, which came into effect on 1 January 2021.
The signing of the deal at continental level has created an open market of about 1,3 billion people with an estimated combined gross domestic product (GDP) of more than US$3,4 trillion.
So far, 54 out of 55 African countries have signed the free trade agreement to allow duty free access of goods and services, according to official reports.
The implications of the market liberalisation is an increased opportunity to access a bigger market.
Local payers should thus gear up and match increased competition from other countries.
“We urge industry to actively provide input when the Government rolls out the consultative processes of tariff offers,” Industry and Commerce Minister, Dr Sekai Nzenza, said.
Zimbabwe is already implementing the trade protocols under Comesa and Sadc and this has been promoting duty free access of goods originating from within the region hence offering an advantage to the industry and commerce, said the minister.
The private sector, Dr Nzenza added, must, therefore, take advantage of the opportunities availed and ensure the country produce more, employ and contribute to the overall economy.
ZimTrade chief executive officer, Mr Allan Majuru said the AfCFTA presents vast opportunities for African countries including Zimbabwe.
With adequate positioning, he said, the continental market will boost the country’s exports, riding on the high quality of Zimbabwean products and services.
“We have no doubt that with the right support, Zimbabwean companies will perform well across all markets on the continent,” he said.
“For Zimbabwean exporters, especially small businesses, to fully take advantage of the opportunities in other African markets, they need to improve their competitiveness,’’ said Mr Majuru.
“We are confident that our engagement with the International Trade Centre and other stakeholders will go a long way in improving the competitiveness of our local companies.”
Development parter support is important as well in boosting effective capacity building. The International Trade Centre, for instance, has been proactive in this regard and is championing a series of engagements over AfCFTA in southern Africa.
Already, plans are underway for a high-level forum next Tuesday organised by the ITC in collaboration with the Zimbabwean Government and the Zimbabwean Chapter of the Organisation of Women in International Trade.
These will engage ZimTrade and other stakeholders with a bias towards assisting small and medium-sized businesses to take advantage of the AfCFTA.
More of such platforms are needed in order to find solutions to challenges faced by Zimbabwean companies and the rest of Africa as they exploit the intra-Africa trade opportunities.