BUDDING women entrepreneurs need to scale up their businesses now in order for them to take advantage of the vast market opportunities to be presented by the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)
The continental free trade agreement, whose implementation is effective January next year, will be the largest in the world connecting 1,3 billion people across 55 countries with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of US$3,4 trillion.
Experts say this is an opportunity for women entrepreneurs to grow their businesses by accessing a larger market beyond borders. This will also help economic recovery post Covid-19 pandemic.
“The 55 countries will create a large market for Zimbabwean products and women need to be aware of this great opportunity,” said Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ) director general, Dr Eve Gadzikwa, during a seventh edition of the online economic development and outlook post Covid-19 hosted by Global Renaissance Investment (GRI).
This edition focused on women empowerment, the available opportunities in business and how the pandemic had affected women and the girl child.
Dr Gadzikwa acknowledged the negative effects of the pandemic on women-led businesses especially those in the small to medium enterprises (SMEs) whose operations were compromised by the closure of borders and general restrictions to movement.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) reported that 195 million jobs were lost by April and 60 percent of these were women. However, it is not all doom and gloom.
“Women need to think about the products they can have for this huge market (AfCFTA). As women, let’s leverage on our entrepreneurship skills as well as digital technology. There is also a lot of learning to be done and work on standards for our products to be competitive,” she said adding that SAZ has free standards for SMEs currently working on Covid-19 related products such as sanitisers.
The AfCFTA presents opportunities for African countries to bring 30 million people out of extreme poverty and raise the incomes of 68 million others who live on less than US$5,50 a day.
According to the World Bank, its implementation will usher in reforms that enhance long term growth in Africa. With its implementation, trade facilitation measures that cut red tape and simplify customs procedures will drive $292 billion of the $450 billion in potential income gains.
Women Affairs, Community and SMEs Development Minister Dr Sithembiso Nyoni, said women have the potential to drive business and economic growth. She also emphasised the need to move into manufacturing sector and value add products in preparation for the AfCFTA next year.
“Let’s move women off streets where they are vendors into manufacturing. As women, let’s produce right now so we occupy space in the car market when AfCFTA opens in January 2020,” she said.
Studies have shown that about 60 percent of businesses operating in Zimbabwe are small business and women are challenged to occupy a significant chunk of the sector.