The disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war should jolt Africa to develop regional and continental supply chains as well as boosting intra-African trade, experts have said, amid fears of future crises.
The continent was on the receiving end as global lockdowns meant that supplies were restricted while the Russia-Ukraine war has led to a spike in prices of food amid fears that some countries are staring food shortages.
AfCFTA Secretariat secretary general Wamkele Mene said the public health crisis reminded “us of the importance of intellectual property rights as a tool to ensure industrialisation and developing generic drug industry”.
He said the geopolitical context has demonstrated the importance of agriculture value chains, eliminating tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade in the basis of agricultural products and underscores the importance of the African Continental Free Trade Area to achieve the objective.
Mene said the two events have compelled the continent to rethink its place in the global order and to rethink how trade tools can be deployed to respond such crisis.
He said AfCFTA is being implemented at a time a shift in global order is taking place.
“While it appears to be a crisis, it is an opportunity for the continent to reconfigure the legal architecture for trade, trade policy architecture within which we operate as a continent,” Mene said in a recorded message the Tralac annual conference last week, that the food insecurity is an opportunity to accelerate and boost intra-Africa trade in agricultural products.
“We can move more rapidly by ensuring that there is zero duty, quota free and duty free trade in agricultural products.”
He said Africa’s Trade ministers could take that decision “immediately” as a response to the crisis ensuring that there is food security as well as placing smallholder farmers in the middle of the value chain for providing food security in Africa.
Mene said the continent has an opportunity to deploy intellectual property rights through the AfCFTA to ensure Africa “adequately responds” to future pandemics and there is no prohibition for governments to take drastic actions to save lives.
“AfCFTA presents opportunity for these to events to happen and reconfigure the trade laws,” he said, adding “we should see the changing global order as an opportunity to advance some of the reforms.”
“For example, TRIPS amendments under the WTO did not go far enough to address Africa’s public health needs. All public health reforms will be advanced through the AfCFTA,” he said.
The Covid-19 pandemic has reminded the continent on the need to build resilient health and economic systems, according to Albert Muchanga commissioner for Economic Development, Trade, Industry and Mining at the African Union Commission.
“When this occurs, Africa must stand on its feet to fight it timely and effectively,” Muchanga told the two-day Tralac annual conference which ended in Nairobi last week in a recorded message.
Experts say Africa will need more than 5 years to restore economic growth to the pre-Covid growth levels.
In 2022, African economic growth is projected to be a full percentage point below the global rate of 4.9%.
“Weaker global demand for commodities, supply chain disruptions and sanitary measures has constrained Africa’s production capacity. However, accelerating Africa’s productive transformation is still a policy priority in our economic recovery efforts,” Muchanga said.