Johannesburg - The Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on global trade has increased the urgency for African economies to bolster regional economic integration initiatives to ensure a more efficient intra-African trade in the future.
This is according to African Union Development Agency’s (AUDA-NEPAD’s) head of strategic initiatives Dr Justina Dugbazah, who was speaking on Thursday during a virtual symposium on impact of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) on the African Continental Free Trade Area’s (AfCFTA) infrastructure development during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The event is organised by the Human Sciences Research Council’s (HSRC) BRICS Research Centre in collaboration with the Academy of Contemporary China and World Studies and the AUDA-NEPAD.
The BRI is China’s infrastructure development strategy which is aimed at enhancing regional connectivity and which has seen it investing in various countries and organisations around the world since the strategy was adopted in 2013.
Dugbazah said a comprehensive vision of trade and development needs to be put in place in order to multiply the benefits of the AfCFTA and to promote developmental regionalism in Africa.
“Today, in the wake of a global pandemic that threatens to erase continental strategies for economic development, it remains debatable amid the pandemic and post Covid-19 would accomplish the Afcta objectives by rebalancing their overreliance on external suppliers in favour of more proximate suppliers which could have a positive impact on on-going efforts to boost African regional value chains,” she said
While some have criticised the strategy as China’s attempt to dominate the world through a China-centred global trading network and of being a exploitative debt trap for developing countries, some have seen the scheme - whose targeted completion is 2049 – as an opportunity to enforce interconnectedness which would result in seamless trade and exchange of goods been countries who otherwise did not have capital for infrastructural investment.
In 2018, 44 of the African Union’s 55 member states signed the AfCFTA in which countries are required to tariffs from 90% of their goods in a bid to boost intra-Africa trade and enhance economic integration on the continent.
According to Dugbazah, the AfCFTA had become critical in fast-tracking economic regional integration which required continental infrastructure development and that China’s partnership was critical in its implementation.
“China has already begun infrastructure development in Africa through the BRI, which is a catalyst for infrastructure development and free trade with this symposium we seek to assess the BRI strategies that can accelerate the AfCFTA infrastructure developments,” Dugbazah said.
Other speakers, including China's Acting Ambassador to South Africa, Li Nan, are billed to speak at the symposium.