Trade experts meeting in Kigali last week have underscored the need to address both the existing external and internal trade to enhance export competitiveness and boost trade.
This comes at a time when the African Union has embarked on implementation of the much-needed reforms to improve efficiency and accountability.
They are expected to facilitate implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area and the long term vision of the organisation: Agenda 2063, which is a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years.
The AU registered a significant victory when 44 African Countries earlier this year signed the CfTA agreement paving the way for a liberalised market for goods and services across the continent.
It gave birth to the world’s largest free trade area since the World Trade Organisation, which was formed in 1995.
Under the theme, Creating One African Market, the initiative falls under the Agenda 2063 of the AU. According to estimates, if all 55 member states of the AU ratify it, the agreement will bring together 1.2 billion people with a combined GDP of more than $2 trillion.
Yet since March, the process of domestication has been slow. So far, only 11 countries have so far ratified the treaty of the 22 countries needed by March 2019 for the trade agreement to become operational and effective.
Bigger economies such as Nigeria are still reluctant to ratify due to internal politics. As several experts have argued, Africa can get more, if it trades with itself more.
The technocrats reaffirmed the clear benefits of intra-African trade, but what is lacking is strong political commitment on the continent to implement what has been agreed on including removing the existing trade barriers (tariff and non-tariff barriers) in regional economic communities that continue to undermine ongoing efforts to integrate.
For instance, while the East African Community was once seen as an excellent example of functioning regional integration, political bickering among partner states has slowed the pace, with many crucial regional projects failing to take off while others have stalled.
Yet strong political will and commitment at the continental level to create larger, competitive markets is essential to not only actualising real market access for established businesses and new entrants.
But also addressing bottlenecks that may emerge in the process of implementation.
At the domestic level, it will take more effort and vigilance to ensure effective implementation including investing in creating dynamic industrial and agricultural policies that will facilitate value addition among others.
There is also a need to constantly monitor and assess implementation to ensure that the trade agreement is responsive to the needs of the private sector.