Experts urge deepening Africa's economic integration via WTO membership, AfCFTA implementation

African economic experts and policymakers attending the Africa Regional Dialogue on the World Trade Organization (WTO) Accessions on Thursday emphasized the urgent need to deepen Africa's economic integration through WTO membership and effective implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA).


(Photo: AfCFTA)

They made the urgent call towards deepening continental economic integration during the Third Regional Dialogue on WTO Accessions for Africa, which is being held from Feb. 12 to 14, in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa under the theme "Deepening Economic Integration in Africa through WTO Membership and AfCFTA Implementation."

Albert Muchanga, AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry, told the high-level continental dialogue that Africa is positively supporting the multilateral system, while the notion of protectionism is on the rise across the world.

"Africa is contributing positively to the multilateral system as African countries are acceding to the WTO in earnest. Also, AfCFTA is being formed at a time when protectionism and retaliatory trade measures are on the rise," the AU Commissioner said.

The high-level continental dialogue is jointly organized by the WTO Secretariat and the Ethiopian government in partnership with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the African Union (AU) Commission, the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the World Bank.

Alan Wolff, Deputy Director-General of the WTO, said during the continental dialogue that one critical issue facing trade negotiators is how to ensure coherence in the pursuit of their countries' domestic economic reform agenda, anchored on WTO rules and principles while, in parallel, deepening regional integration efforts through AfCFTA implementation.

Stephen Karingi, Director of the Regional Integration and Trade Division at the UNECA, also highlighted the "contrasting narratives on the governance of international trade" coming out of Africa on the one hand, and the West on the other.

The UNECA official also stressed that "despite the waning confidence in rules-based multilateral diplomacy, Africa is affirming and reaffirming its confidence in a rules-based system of economic liberalization as a tool for inclusive and people-centered development."

According to the ECA, the high-level dialogue is said to serve as an opportunity for African countries to explore the synergies between the AfCFTA and the WTO regimes so as to ensure those countries pursuing accession to the WTO and participation in the AfCFTA approach these twin processes in a coordinated and mutually-reinforcing manner, instead of turning against the multilateral trading system.

Participants attending the gathering also stressed that the dialogue is taking place at an opportune moment when the Agreement Establishing the AfCFTA has entered into force, while at the same time 44 African countries are members of the WTO, and nine of the 22 countries engaged in the highly demanding WTO accession negotiations are from Africa.

Many of the acceding African countries are also expected to intensify their engagement at the level of their respective Accession Working Parties in 2020, it was noted.

The continental economic dialogue, among other things, brought together government representatives from seven of the nine acceding African countries that are Algeria, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan.

It also brought together representatives from the private sector, civil society, independent experts, academia, international organizations and development partners, it was noted.