Economists have underscored the need for African countries to diversify and add value to export commodities to compete with the industrialised nations.
They stressed that export-led-growth model was the optimal path to development especially for developing countries and called on most countries to improve their export competitiveness.
The economists were speaking through a video conference at the Global Development Debate Series organised by the World Bank for selected countries including Ghana in Accra on Tuesday.
The debate was expected to create a space in which top analysts and policymakers would share knowledge and experience with their peers and present best practice knowledge to decision-makers seeking strategies to deal with new challenges posed by the global crisis.
Mr Felix C. Mutati, Zambian Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry said there was the need for African countries to learn from the Malaysian experience of establishing economic zones to harness the potentials at the livestock, tourism and agricultural sectors.
He called stressed on the need to trade among sub-regional groupings because it was easier and prudent in terms of access, rule of origin and standards.
“We need to move away from the ‘romance’ of trading with countries in Europe to that of pragmatism. Zambia for example, is surrounded by some eight countries, we can trade with those countries,” he said.
Mr Ishmael Yamson, Board Chairman of Unilever (Ghana) and Standard Chartered Bank (Ghana), called for capacity building to export products in a timely and cost-effective manner.
He stressed that export competitiveness should focus on growth and prosperity aimed at alleviating poverty on the continent.
Professor Alice Amsden, Senior Lecturer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States, said “most African countries had no good teacher on diversification. They have not been taught, as an example, how to turn raw materials like cocoa into chocolate for exports or to turn bauxite into aluminum products.”
She suggested that African countries needed to build on the knowledge base to reverse the brain drain syndrome that militated against the growth and total economic emancipation of the continent.
Prof. Amsden, a former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki- Moon’s appointee to the UN Committee on Development Policy, called for policies to stimulate domestic production in non-traditional exports since most developing countries have comparative advantage in those areas.
“The preliminary step is to help developing countries to acquire experience. Experience is more than simply learning by doing. It involves mastering different tasks, not a single one,” she said.
Madam Halipah Esa, former Deputy Secretary General of Policy, a unit in the Malaysian Ministry of Finance, said countries needed to create new niches for their export commodities and for specialised goods.
She called on African governments to demonstrate commitment in the export sector to attract foreign direct investments.