Africa possesses a more powerful tool in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) for accelerating regional and economic integration, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) has said.
The Executive Secretary of the United Nations body, Ms Vera Songwe, stated this on Tuesday in a virtual panel discussion to mark the inaugural Africa Integration Day set aside by the African Union to mark the implementation of AfCFTA.
According to Songwe, Africa does not need a Marshall Plan to ride out the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
Integration, she said, was key for Africa’s growth and attainment of Agenda 2030 for sustainable development and the continent’s development aspirations as contained in Agenda 2063.
“We need to talk about Africa and the AfCFTA. Our Marshall Plan is the AfCFTA. The AfCFTA is our plan, so let us take it and run with it,” she said.
Songwe said with the AfCFTA, Africa had collectively penned its own blueprint for growth.
“The Marshall Plan for Europe was about 160 per cent of their GDP traded to bring back growth after the war.
“What happened to us is that we were all waiting for a health crisis but we got an economic crisis first which was very steep, very deep, not just for us but for the rest of the world,” she said.
She added that the ECA had estimated that economic growth in Africa in 2020 would drop from 3.2 percent to -2.8 percent to about zero percent growth as a result of COVID-19.
According to her, this situation is disastrous.
“COVID came and has taken us quite far behind because we need to reassess where is it that we want to go and how we want to go.
” We definitely need to do things differently,” she said.
The Executive Secretary added that it was crucial for Africa to integrate its financial systems to create a mutualised system of financial stability that works for the continent or regional monetary cooperation as in East Asia.
“The Afreximbank Exchange Facility is an excellent step in the right direction. But more is needed to integrate our economies and financial sectors,” she said.
” When there is a crisis, we come together and we pool and mutualise our resources so that those who are the most hit get some resources.
“So, we do not need to go the long distance of common currency to get a mutualised system of financial stability that works for the continent.
“We need to ensure that as we build the AfCFTA and trade integration, we begin to build stronger, much more robust monetary and fiscal systems that can ensure that as a continent we actually can work with each other in a more effective way,”Songwe said.
She shared with the panel what the ECA had been doing since the crisis began in helping African nations, the private sector and civil society to understand and draw strategies to contain the pandemic as well as prepare for the future.
Songwe said COVID-19 had given Africa an opportunity to assess its weak health delivery systems with countries like South Africa, Ethiopia and Morocco among others building new health infrastructure.
“Africa must produce internally. The continent imports $14.7 billion worth of drugs, over 95 percent of its demand.
“Countries like Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, Ethiopia and Cameroon can produce drugs for the continent.
“What needs to be worked on are Intellectual Property Rights issues,” she said.
The News Agency of Nigeria(NAN) reports that Songwe was joined on the panel by Mr Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD and Mr Benedict Okey Oramah, the President of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank).
Others were Mr Wamkele Mene, first Secretary-General of the AfCFTA; Mr Chileshe Mpundu Kapwepwe, Secretary-General COMESA; and Mrccy Paolo Gomes of AfroChampions.
The panelists agreed that AfCFTA was the best stimulus for Africa to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
They also agreed the crisis was a great opportunity the continent should not waste, using lessons learned for Africa’s industrial development by producing its own drugs and saving billions of dollars in the process.
They further agreed that digital inclusion was paramount in addition to working closer together as one united continent with the private sector.