44 African nations sign pact establishing free trade area

The African Heads of States and Governments pose during African Union (AU) Summit for the agreement to establish the African Continental Free Trade Area in Kigali, Rwanda, on March 21, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 21 March 2018

44 African nations sign pact establishing free trade area

KIGALI, Rwanda: Forty-four African countries have signed an agreement establishing a free trade area seen as vital to the continent’s economic development, the head of the African Union said Wednesday.
The creation of a free trade area — billed as the world’s largest in terms of participating countries — comes after two years of negotiations, and is one of the AU’s flagship projects for greater African integration.
“The agreement establishing the CFTA (African Continental Free Trade Area) was signed by 44 countries,” said Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the AU commission.
However, the agreement will still have to be ratified at a national level, and is only due to come into force in 180 days.
Nigeria is notably absent from the signatories after President Muhammadu Buhari pulled out of this week’s launch in Rwanda saying he needed more time for consultations at home.
One of Africa’s largest markets, Nigeria hesitated after objections from business leaders and unions — a sign that getting the deal through scores of national parliaments may face several hurdles.
“Some countries have reservations and have not finalized their national consultations. But we shall have another summit in Mauritania in July where we expect countries with reservations to also sign,” said Albert Muchanga, the AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry.
However other economic powerhouses South Africa, Kenya, Morocco, Egypt, Ethiopia and Algeria — known for strict protectionist policies restricting imports and exports — did sign the deal.
If all 55 African Union members eventually sign up, it will create a bloc with a cumulative GDP of $2.5 trillion (2 trillion euros) and cover a market of 1.2 billion people.
Currently, African countries only do about 16 percent of their business with each other, the smallest amount of intra-regional trade compared to Latin America, Asia, North America and Europe.
And with average tariffs of 6.1 percent, businesses currently pay higher tariffs when they export within Africa than when they export outside it, according to the AU.
“If we remove customs and duties by 2022, the level of intra-African trade will increase by 60 percent, which is very, very significant,” Muchanga told AFP in an interview before the summit.
Proponents of the deal argue that African economies on their own are too small to support economic diversification and industrialization on their own and will benefit from having a unified platform to negotiate trade deals with wealthier nations.
The “CFTA will make Africa one of the largest economies in the world and enhance its capacity to interact on equal terms with other international economic blocs,” said Faki in a speech before the signing ceremony.
“The world is changing, and changing at a great speed. International competition is fierce. It leaves no room for the weak.”
However, critics highlight a dearth of roads and other infrastructure linking different African nations, as well as the fact that many countries do not manufacture goods their neighbors may want to import, as challenges to the deal.
Sola Afolabi, a Nigeria-based international trade consultant, told AFP the fact already-existing regional trade blocs were not working, should be a red flag.
“If there is no reward for compliance and there is no punishment for non-compliance, then it is going to be a very nice agreement without any teeth or any legs,” he said.
Faki acknowledged that Africans “have seen so many proclamations remain a dead letter, so many commitments without practical execution that they have come to doubt the strength of our commitment.”
He urged for a break in this trend, calling for a deal that “must confound those who, outside Africa, continue to think — with barely-concealed condescension — that our decisions will never materialize.”
The CFTA is a key part of the AU’s long-term development plan Agenda 2063, which calls for easing trade and travel across the continent.
At its most recent summit in Ethiopia in January, AU member states agreed to a common air transport market that could drive down airfares, as well as plans for visa-free travel for Africans across the continent.
Also on Wednesday, 27 countries signed the protocol agreeing to the free movement of persons across the continent.


50% of workers fear losing job in next 12 months: Global economic survey

Updated 51 sec ago

50% of workers fear losing job in next 12 months: Global economic survey

  • Saudi adults more optimistic of developing new skills for future jobs
  • 195m jobs lost worldwide amid COVID-19 pandemic: Egyptian minister

DUBAI: More than half the global workforce fears being made redundant in the next 12 months, according to a World Economic Forum-Ipsos survey.

The study, released on the eve of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Jobs Reset Summit, questioned 12,000 adults in 27 countries about employment prospects during the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

And although at least 50 percent were concerned about losing their jobs over the coming year, two-thirds of workers worldwide said they could learn the skills needed for the jobs of the future through their current employer.

In Saudi Arabia, less than 20 percent of those who took part in the survey were very concerned about their jobs disappearing, compared to 39 percent in Spain.

While the findings painted an overall gloomy picture of the global job situation amid the COVID-19 outbreak, they also highlighted green shoots of optimism, particularly in the Kingdom.

Around 18 percent of Saudi workers were not at all worried about losing their jobs, more than the global average of 17 percent.

On learning, Saudis were even more enthusiastic, with 39 percent confident of gaining the necessary skills to compete for the new job opportunities of the future.

During a WEF discussion on the impact of the global health crisis on employment, Rania Al-Mashat, the Egyptian minister for international cooperation, described the COVID-19 pandemic as a mix of many crises that had rendered 195 million people jobless around the world.

But she said that Egypt’s young population offered great opportunities for the country and the government had already rolled out plans to tap into youth development before the virus outbreak.

“The Egyptian government has taken comprehensive measures to reshape the education system incorporating a significant technology element to the sector and this turned out to be very useful for home schooling during the lockdown,” the minister added during a session titled, “Building a New Economy and Society.”

Al-Mashat pointed out that Egypt was adopting the principles of stakeholder capitalism, and in order to utilize the energies of its youth had been actively creating entrepreneurial space and building a strong digital infrastructure. She said there had been many policy movements, especially in the creation of gender equality accelerators.

Alan Jope, the CEO of Unilever and a speaker in the same session, said COVID-19 was not the only current world crisis, adding that economic, health, geopolitical, trade wars, climate change, capital wars, and a few looming military conflicts could be added to a global list of crises.

He also noted that gross domestic product (GDP) should not be considered the only economic measure. “Our measures for success need to change, we’ll have to look at social and environmental parameters, and not just the GDP.”

Jope predicted plenty of future jobs but not in traditional areas of work. “Most of the jobs will be created in the low-carbon sector, along with the IT and biotech industries,” he said.