Recent progress made by African nations towards establishing the world’s largest free trade area was backed Monday by the director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Roberto Azevedo warned, however, that the continent must remain outward looking.
“The notion of a continental (free trade) area, I think, is something that should be supported by everyone,” he said, speaking at the Commonwealth Business Forum in London.
“Certainly at the WTO, we see African integration as a stepping stone towards further integration between Africa and the global economy.”
“But, Azevedo warned that countries should avoid taking the “wrong road.”
He said that discussion needed to include “how to make sure that the integrated processes do not become a fortress,” and instead be used as a “step to open up” rather than shutting off other forms of global trade.
“The integration of Africa is an important point of integration into the world,” he said.
African leaders met in Kigali, Rwanda, last month to sign a declaration of the establishment of a free trade area on the continent. This, if fully put into practice, would be
the largest bloc of its kind in terms of member states
since the formation of the World Trade Organization.
The agreement is proposed by the African Union, a collective of 55 countries on the continent. It is touted as encompassing a market of 1.2 billion people with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $2.5 trillion — and intended to encourage Africa’s trade to
from its traditional commodity exports outside of the continent, the volatile prices of which have hurt the economies of many countries.
Forty-four African countries signed the pact in March, although sub-Saharan Africa’s two biggest economies hesitated.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa only committed joining the agreement at some point in the future, while Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari did not attend the summit at all. Both cited the need to resolve domestic issues first, for example working with labor unions over feared job losses.
Azevedo also highlighted the need to improve infrastructure in Africa to better facilitate trade. “Because although they are neighboring countries, sometimes in Africa it’s easier to connect to Europe or to other markets than to themselves.”
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