NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 16 – The eight regional trade blocs under the African Union (AU) will start negotiations in December this year that will see creation of a Continental Free Trade Area.
Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) Head of Infrastructure Department Christian Appiah said all is set for the talks which will focus on dealing with opening of boundaries by dealing with tariff and non-tariff barriers.
He says on their part, ECOWAS is ready to trade with the East African Community since both blocs are strongly established.
“We have had several consultations with other regional blocs and at the African Union level, they recognize the regional economic communities that we have. At the moment each of these regional bloc is developing a strategy on how this continental collaboration is going to work,” Appiah told journalist at the Trade Mark East Africa offices in Nairobi on Friday.
Apart from EAC and ECOWAS, other African regional blocs under the AU include, Arab Maghreb Union (UMA), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
Others are the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as well as Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD).
The creation of a pan-African trade pact have been the centre of discussion for several AU summits with questions raising on how to actually implement free trade area considering the various tough policies among different member countries.
However according to Appiah, there is no need to postpone as everything must start somewhere and deal with the challenges that arise.
“I would say even for us being where we are with ECOWAS or EAC, it has been challenging. But over the years we have been able to do away with a lot of trade barriers which were largely about perceptions and lack of knowledge of the economic potential that existed,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of Trade Mark East Africa (TMEA), board member Patrick Obath noted the need to raise awareness among the revenue authorities as well as citizens on the benefit of opening up boundaries for trade.
“For example here in EAC we still have some revenue authorities which feel that removal of taxes eat into their total collections. But what we need to do is see how this can be made clear that it has a long term economic benefit of growing the economies within these regional blocs and not just about collecting huge taxes,” Obath said.
Intra-African trade currently stands at 12 percent of total trade, compared to 60 percent for Europe, 40 percent for North America, and 30 percent for (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) ASEAN, according to statistics cited by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The two were speaking after the completion of five-day tour by an ECOWAS delegation in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda since Monday this week. The delegation included officials of the Customs and Infrastructure departments from the 15 countries under ECOWAS.