Official figures on intra-African trade misleading – Lopes

Carlos Lopes
Carlos Lopes

The figures on intra-African trade have been described as misleading because they do not take into account informal trade among African countries.

Speaking at the opening of the Second African Trade Forum (ATF II) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Monday September 24, 2012, Carlos Lopes, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) noted that the potential of intra-regional trade is evident from regions that have moved up the value chain, while intra-Africa trade is in the region of 10% of recorded trade, “the comparable figure is 60% and 70% in ASEAN and the EU respectively,” he said.

He observed however, that the figure for intra-Africa trade is misleading because it takes no account of the informal trade that occurs between African countries and which can be witnessed on a daily basis at almost every border.

“This points to the very important role of generating accurate statistics about trade and economic activity in Africa to inform evidence based policy making.  We need to think of doing so in innovative ways using all the tools now available to us,” he said.

Mr. Lopes told the conference under the theme – “Boosting Intra-African Trade and Establishing the Continental Free Trade Area”, that “it is important to use trade to upscale the current appreciable growth rate of 5.2% per annum achieved in the continent since the turn of the century.”

He urged the meeting not to be “just about repeating what we already know about constraints to intra-African trade such as infrastructural deficiencies, inadequate payment arrangements and high tariff and non-tariff barriers.  Our purpose rather should be to contextualize the current situation with regard to building on the political expression of support for the continental trade agenda and mobilizing broad based support for actualizing this vision.”

He also warned that it would be important, to identify potential obstacles and determine the role of all constituencies in the continental trade agenda going forward.

H e argued that, since the ultimate objective is to ensure that trade contributes to the socio-economic transformation of Africa, then it remains important to keep an eye on specific interventions that will be required from different stakeholders, “this also means deliberating on how best to use trade to overcome vulnerabilities, utilize Africa’s untapped assets, reinforce its middle class and adapt to global trends,” he said.

The theme of the conference is a follow-up to the 18th and 19th Ordinary Sessions of the Assembly of the African Union Heads of State and Government which were held in Addis Ababa under the theme “Boosting Intra-African Trade.” The January 2012 Summit of the leaders also adopted the decision to establish the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) by 2017. The Summit also endorsed an Action Plan for Boosting Intra-African Trade as well as architecture to support the implementation of the decisions as well as provide a framework for monitoring and evaluation, Mr. Erastus Nwencha, the Vice Chair of the AU Commission reminded the meeting.

The three-day conference is being attended by about 700 trade experts, public sector officials, academics and journalists.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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