AFRICA is determined to strengthen its economic relationships and build upon its respective rights in line with the aspirations of the Agenda 2063, which is aimed at fostering a common continental market with free movement of persons, capital, goods and services.
This is crucial for deepening economic integration and promoting agricultural development, food security, industrialisation and structural economic transformation, says the Ministry of Finance and National Planning.
African think -tanks, policymakers, researchers and practitioners gathered in Lusaka for the Ninth Africa Think-Tank Summit held from November 8 to 10, this year with a shared commitment of advancing the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement.
The delegates gathered to explore linking evidence, policies, and practice to support the AfCFTA implementation in line with the theme of the summit dubbed: ‘Linking Evidence, Policies, and Practices to Support the Implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement.’
The summit was organised by African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) in collaboration with its partners William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and support from the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry in Zambia.
Africa Network of Agricultural Policy Research Institutes (ANAPRI) Secretariat Executive Director Nalishebo Meebelo says the successful implementation of the AfCFTA requires high-quality research to influence policymaking and action that will guarantee inclusive and sustainable development in Africa.
Dr Meebelo adds that it will also require strong inter- ministerial coordination mechanisms, honest conversations and development of human and institutional capacities.
She says to build the capacities of experts in Africa, particularly the young men and women in research and innovation in support of policymaking, there is a need to take advantage of the digital age and strengthen implementation of the AfCFTA using technologically driven approaches.
Dr Meebelo says think-tanks therefore such as ANAPRI, among others, have a major role to play in providing guidance, supporting research to policy and practice to successfully achieve the objectives of the AfCFTA Agreement to significantly boost intra-Africa trade.
“Research is a public good, it is as good as building a road, bridge, school, hospital, clinic etc. The difference is that the outcomes of research are not as visible or tangible and would mostly sit in a document. However, the impact of research can be massive when used effectively in our decision-making processes,” she says.
Dr Meebelo says evidence-based policies can improve the livelihoods of people in Africa and build resilient and prosperous economies in this continent.
African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) Executive Secretary Mamadou Biteye says the theme of the summit, data and evidence underscores the immense opportunities presented by the AfCFTA.
Mr Biteye says projections indicate that real income gains from implementing the AfCFTA agreement can increase by seven per cent or almost US$450 billion by 2035 while adding US$76 billion to income for the rest of the world.
He says this creates a market of over 1.3 billion people, with a combined Growth Domestic Product (GDP) exceeding US$3.4 trillion.
Mr Biteye says these statistics demonstrate the immense potential for economic growth, job creation and poverty reduction that the AfCFTA holds for the African continent.
“To fully harness these opportunities, we must recognize that capacity development is the linchpin that bridges the gap between evidence, policies, and practice,” he says.
Mr Biteye explains that capacity development equips individuals, institutions and nations with the skills, knowledge, and institutional frameworks needed to effectively leverage the AfCFTA for sustainable development.
Policy Monitoring and Research Centre (PMRC) Zambia Executive Director Sydney Mwamba says think-tanks play a crucial role in conducting research and analysis on various aspects of the AfCFTA, including trade policies, regulations and economic impacts.
Mr Mwamba says they also provide valuable data and insights to policymakers, helping them make informed decisions.
“This identifies potential risks and challenges that may arise during the implementation of AfCFTA, enabling governments and businesses to develop risk mitigation strategies,” he adds.
Mr Mwamba further says think-tanks can assess the potential economic and social impacts of the AfCFTA.
This information is vital for governments to anticipate and manage the consequences of trade liberalisation on various sectors.
AfCFTA Secretary General Wamkele Mene says the organisation aims to create one market
out of 55 different countries, permanently changing the economic geography of Africa.
Mr Mene says policy reforms will result from implementation of the AfCFTA, which will continuously improve the business environment, reducing the cost of doing business, harmonising the rules and policies and reducing transaction costs.
He states that the AfCFTA was negotiated from June 15, 2015 to March 21, 2018 when the agreement was opened for signature, containing the Framework Agreement and the protocols on Goods, Services and Dispute Settlement in less than three years.
Mr Mene says since then, it has become a bona-fide international organisation, enjoying international visibility, reckoned as a game-changer and a relevant political economy player.
He said this in a speech read for him by Director of Trade, Customs and Monetary Affairs at the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Dr Francis Mangani during the official opening of the summit.
Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development Minister Charles Milupi, who at the time of the summit was acting Finance and National Planning Minister, said Zambia and the rest of Africa were conscious of the need to enhance trade through the successful implementation of the AfCFTA agreement.
Mr Milupi says this will create an extended and secure market for goods and services of State parties through the development of adequate infrastructure as well as progressive elimination of tariffs and non tariff barriers to trade and investment.
He says this cannot happen unless there is a deliberate intention of linking evidence-based formulation of policies and practices to contribute to the successful implementation of the AfCFTA agreement.
The theme of the summit ““Linking Evidence, Policies, and Practice to Support the Implementation of the AfCFTA Agreement underscores Africa’s need to bridge the gap between researches, policy formation.
This will also address the practical implementation of the agreement with the view of enhancing intra-continental trading.
“The summit is significant because it urges us all to build capacities of our experts in Africa to deliver reliable evidence for policy making,” he says.
Mr Milupi says it is clear that by promoting evidence-based decision making and fostering collaboration between think-tanks, policymakers and practitioners, sustainable policies, Africa will effectively implement the AfCFTA agreement to maximize its benefits.
The participants in a communiqué presented at the end of the summit resolved to foster synergistic collaboration and knowledge exchange among think tanks, research institutions, policymakers and practitioners.
By instituting a continental platform dedicated to constructive dialogue, the exchange of insights and the dissemination of exemplary practices and lessons acquired.
They agreed to expedite the creation of a permanent mechanism to sustain consistent and structured dialogue between African governments, Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and think-tanks.
This mechanism aims to ensure the congruence of policies, dissemination of information, and the harmonisation of efforts in AfCFTA implementation.
The participants further resolved to strengthen the national and regional committees devoted to AfCFTA implementation.
These committees should encompass representatives from think tanks, governmental bodies, private sector associations, and civil society organizations to ensure efficient coordination, monitoring, and evaluation of implementation endeavours.
And to enhance capacity-building initiatives targeted at customs officials, trade facilitation agencies, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to augment their comprehension of AfCFTA regulations, procedures and requisites among others.
The delegates further agreed to establish specialized trade information portals and assistance desks, offering user-friendly access to trade procedure particulars, tariff information, rules of origin, and market prospects within the AfCFTA, with a focus on benefiting SMEs and businesses.
This will also establish a dedicated AfCFTA Research Fund led through joint efforts under AfCFTA secretariat and the Afreximbank to support think tanks and research institutions in conducting evidence-based research, policy analysis and impact assessments on various dimensions of AfCFTA.
It is clear that by promoting evidence-based decision making and fostering collaboration between think-tanks, policymakers and practitioners, sustainable policies Africa will effectively implement the AfCFTA agreements to maximize its benefits.
•SOME of the delegates at the Ninth Africa Think-Tank Summit in Lusaka.