At last, about one year after Africa’s heads of state agreed to establish the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement (AfCFTA), enough countries have ratified the agreement for it to commence. A few days ago The Gambia became the 22nd country to sign up, thus providing the threshold of the members of the African Union under whose auspice the free trade area is being established.
Ghana has been one of the most enthusiastic proponents of this new initiative. Indeed, this country’s government has been lobbying for the free trade area to be administered from Accra.
To be sure, this is in line with Ghana’s long standing, well deserved and indeed most commendable reputation as a bastion of pan Africanism, for which it has been known since the late 1950s when its first President, Dr Kwame Nkrumah held sway. Over the six decades since, Ghana has been a committed member of African regionalism at both the political and the economic levels and at both the pan African, continental level and the West African, sub regional one.
This latest pan African initiative however requires that Ghana matches its enthusiasm with a heavy dose of pragmatism.
Firstly, Ghana must realize that Nigeria, which has steadfastly refused to sign up to the treaty, has good reason to be circumspect. Simply put, there are several African countries, particularly those situated at the northernmost and southernmost ends of the continent that have considerably more sophisticated and capable industrial production capacities than anything any West African country can put up.
Thus, while Ghana has clear potentials in areas where it has natural resource advantages, such as chocolate and jewelry, it will have to face up to distinct un-competitiveness in the production of lots of things, from processed foods to industrial goods. This will put local industry at even more threat than it already is due to the trade treaty between ECOWAS and the EU.
Secondly, African countries are notorious for by-passing trade agreements when such behavior best suits their interests. A vivid illustration of this is the haphazard implementation of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme which is supposed to allow for duty free import of manufactured goods by member nations as long as they were made in fellow member nations. But to their dismay, Ghanaian exporters have been faced with demands for duties from several neighbouring West African states even as those countries export their own goods to Ghana duty free under the terms of the scheme.
We therefore recommend that Ghana adopts a strict policy of bilateral reciprocity, even within the multilateral framework of the AfCTA.
We wish Ghana well as it prepares for the commencement of the world’s largest free trade area. We also hope the country will remember that its membership aims at improving its economic fortunes and ultimately the living standards of its people; not just at once again showing what a responsible committed pillar of Africa’s socio-economic renaissance this country is.