At a time when BRICS nations affirm their proximity, intra-African trade must be our priority

While the BRICS heads of state (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) are meeting in South Africa for their tenth summit, it seems essential to me to recall why the issue of intra-African trade is crucial if we want to assert ourselves as a continent of equal playing with the other big emerging countries of the South. It is encouraging to see that for the first time in our Pan-African history, we have achieved a major political breakthrough on this subject. In March, 44 African countries signed the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) agreement, a giant leap forward for our continent, whose economic and political integration is still far too weak.

In its latest report on the state of African trade [1], Afreximbank points out that while intra-African trade is worth $ 128.25 billion, up 5.6% between 2016 and 2017, its share in the total volume of the continent’s trade remains weak. In 2017, this share fell to less than 15% of all trade on the continent, amounting to $ 907.63 billion.

However, with the establishment of the CFTA, experts estimate that we can expect a growth of more than 50% in the intra-African trade by 2022. This aspect of African countries’ trade is all the more important to develop that it is often better balanced than our trade outside the continent. Indeed, between 2012 and 2016, intra-African trade consisted of 43% manufactured goods against only 20% to the rest of the world.

Nevertheless, the concrete and effective implementation of the free trade zone of the African continent will not be an easy task. First of all, a signature does not mean ratification, and the agreement will have to go through this stage of ratification in a large number of countries. Moreover, the huge disparities between countries will not fail to cause harmonization difficulties.

But above all, there are still missing signatories! Countries like Nigeria, Namibia, Burundi, and Benin have not yet joined the agreement. Each of these states expresses reluctance due to pressure from certain economic sectors, fearing a sudden increase in competition caused by a CFTA membership. But we must convince the different governments of the importance of joining this project with long-term gains for all. In addition, accompanying measures are planned in the short term to prepare the economic sectors that will be weakened by the agreement.

The road towards the integration of the continent is therefore still long because, despite the advances in the fields of customs and regulation that the CFTA will enable, the obstacles remain numerous. How can one imagine making Africa a free trade zone, with flows that can circulate easily, if the continent is still struggling with its infrastructure deficit? We invest $ 45 billion a year in infrastructures [2], but twice as much is needed. It would indeed be time for the Bank created by the BRICS to take a greater interest in regional infrastructure projects on the continent. In addition, to be able to trade and export, businesses need financing. However, only one-third of African trade is supported by banking institutions, and it is estimated that $ 90 billion of funding demands by African companies are not satisfied.  Finally, this project of a more integrated Africa requires the support of Africans themselves. We need all the forces within our nations, as well as our diasporas, to carry out this project that can change the dimension of our continent in global economic and political affairs.

By uniting as Europeans have done, despite the difficulties they are facing today, we can radically change the weight of Africa in international institutions like the WTO. If the African continent spoke with one voice, our influence would be much stronger than 55 voices trying to be heard on their own. It is only by working together that we can change the course of events and weigh in the affairs of the world, especially in the new forums that give pride to the voices of the South.

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