Yaounde, 24 October 2020 (ECA) - 'The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will offer an opportunity to sell to over 1.2 billion persons with a collective GDP of US$ 2.5 trillion, but what can Central African countries sell on the new continental market?
'As a result of COVID-19, Africa has not been able to get some of the food supplies it usually imported from other parts of the world - for a country such as Cameroon, with vast expanse of arable land and a good mix of agricultural geographies, why not produce these locally instead of importing them?
'The Republic of Congo has significant deposits of potash, an essential mineral for the production of agricultural fertilizers, with resources estimated at 1 billion tonnes - so why not locally produce fertilizers and other chemicals necessary for agro production?'
These were teasers for reflection put to an assembly of senior State officials from all the eleven countries of the Economic Community of Central Africa States (ECCAS) by the Director of the Subregional Office for Central Africa of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) - Antonio Pedro, Friday.
It was during a virtual exchange convened by the ECCAS Commission and moderated by its Commissioner in charge of the Common Market, Economic, Monetary and Financial Affairs - Mr François Kanimba. This, in the context of the regional economic community's open days to mark its 37th anniversary.
ECCAS was established on 18 October 1983 with the signing, in Libreville - Gabon, of its Constitutive Treaty. The treaty was the subject of a revision adopted on 18 December 2019 and which entered into force on 28 August 2020. ECCAS is made up of eleven Member States which are: Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Rwanda and Sao Tome and Principe.
Commissioner Kanimba said the initiative reflects the direction of the new ECCAS Commission, which intends to change the executive body's approach to communicating with Member States, partners and people of the Community, with a view to making the its achievements more visible.
He justified the choice of the theme by the concern of having up-to-date information on Member States' readiness for the take-off of AfCFTA scheduled for 1 January 2021. This is in order to identify the relevant actions to be included in the Commission's five-year strategic plan, which is being developed.
Pushing the reflection even further, Pedro said in spite of its forest ecosystem which harbours vast raw materials of the active ingredients for pharmaceuticals, Cameroon spent circa XAF 120 billion per year between 2015 and 2019 to import medicines. Why must it be so, he quizzed?
'We must therefore review the medium and long term value chains by focusing on strategic sectors such as the manufacture of pharmaceutical products and food value chains to overcome dependence on food from outside,' Pedro added.
He demonstrated how Central African countries could take advantage of the AfCFTA on the basis of a consolidated Central African Industrialization and Economic Diversification Master Plan (PDIDE-AC, in French), being strung-together with ECA's coordination, to develop integrated regional value chains.
One of such chains is on fertilizers. The Republic of Congo has the raw materials for these, notably potash. If Congo extracts potash and ships it to Cameroon, the Cameroonian manpower can transform it into fertilizers. The end product can then be shipped to Central African countries and beyond, he said.
This is why ECA's Office for Central Africa will continue to support countries of the subregion with the necessary evidence-based policy advice to create a productive self-sufficient ecosystem in the advent of AfCFTA, he noted.
During the virtual meeting, representatives from most ECCAS Member States said they were ready, for the most part, with clear list of physical products to enjoy tariff concession within the AfCFTA regime but that they were still to tidy up their list of services for such concessions. They called on the ECCAS Commission to nudge member countries to quickly review and vet the proposals of their sector experts in readiness for the common market.
Many county representatives also said they still need to get clarity from the African Union on rules of origin of products especially those from special economic zones.
ECA's Office for Central Africa was praised for its substantive support to ECCAS Member States in explicating the AfCFTA, in formulating or reviewing industrial development and economic diversification masterplans and in drawing up national AfCFTA strategies.
Abel Akara Ticha - Communication Officer
United Nations Economic Commission for Africa
637, rue 3.069, Quartier du Lac, Yaounde, Cameroon
Tel: +237 222504348