Ghana has signed and ratified the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, indicating a high political will towards the Agreement. This is evident in how the country pushed hard to win the race for hosting the AfCFTA Secretariat. Additionally, a technical working groups have been formed as part of efforts and commitment to help realize the objectives of the Agreement and ensure Ghana obtains utmost benefit from the same.
Empirical evidences have posited that there are positive gains in joining the AfCFTA. However, the benefits derive from the Agreement depends on (a) having a national strategy (b) the design of the strategy (c) how fast the national strategy is developed and (d) the implementation of the national strategy.
Having a National AfCFTA Strategy
It is an undeniable fact that for any state party to benefit from the Agreement, there is the need for a national strategy. This provides systematic, uncut, and inclusive and processes towards measures to ensure AfCFTA implementation. The national strategy enables the country to identify sectors where it has a comparative advantage, major trade opportunities, extant constraints and auxiliary measures needed to take an absolute advantage of the Agreement.
Currently, Ghana has not churned out a national strategy despite the fact that a technical committee has been formed. Meanwhile, trading under the Agreement was supposed to have started in 1st July 2020, but has been deferred to the COVID-19 pandemic. This implies that should trading activities commence at the planned date, the country would have lagged behind even if a strategy is developed before the set date. The reason being that the design and development of a strategy takes time before it matures and become operational amidst how effective it is implemented. Per the information available (see: AfCFTA Year Zero Report) not a single member country has issued out a publicly and accessible National AfCFTA Implementation Strategy. Hence, one could argue that Ghana is not in this situation alone. However, it should be noted that regarding trade agreement and developing a national strategy for it solely depends on the country. That is, each individual country’s preparedness determines its gains.
The design of the strategy
How the implementation strategy is designed contributes greatly to ensure that a country obtains a maximum benefit from the Agreement. The strategy should identify the export products to other African countries and suggest definite steps to actualize such exports. It should also underline vulnerable and sensitive products that need special consideration and measures to bolster these sectors. Emphasis should be placed on SMEs that make up about 85% of enterprises in the country. Cross cutting issues pertaining to gender equality, environment and climate change should catch particular attention. Other vulnerable groups such as the youth and smallholder farmers must also be given a special attention.
The speed of the strategy development
The speed at which the strategy is efficiently developed will not only give the country a competitive edge over other State Parties, but will also help identify challenges and fill the necessary gaps before kick -off. It is important to note that strategies developed, be it in trade facilitation, productive capacity building, among others take time to become operational. For example, firms need some time to build new internal capabilities or improve upon the existing ones, diversify or add value to their products. Moreover, the gains expected to emerge from the AfCFTA is likely to happen over a long term, hence a swift action taken to develop a national strategy will fast-forward the country’s ability to benefit greatly from the Agreement. Notably, the AfCFTA agreement will bring in its wake some adjustment cost since resources will have to be re-allocated over time from sectors that are negatively affected by the free trade by shifting resources from import- competing industries to export oriented sectors. In this sense, putting a quick but efficient strategy in place provides the country the opportunity to offer adjustment assistance to vulnerable groups and sensitive sectors that may be adversely affected.
The implementation of the strategies
Crafting a national strategy is a necessary condition but not sufficient. Effective monitoring and evaluation (M&E) mechanism needs to be included in the national strategy, otherwise, it will not see the light of the day. M&E system helps to identify what is working or not, what or how differently the strategies can be done for the overall benefits from the Agreement.
Although it is better late than never, it should be emphasized that time and tide wait for no man. As soon as the whistle is blown for, a take- off there will not be any time to wait for the sluggish country. Being part of the AfCFTA does not guarantee an automatic benefit. A country’s gain or loss depends on how fast and efficient it develops and implement its strategy. COVID-19 pandemic cannot be used as an excuse, if only we really are serious. The technical working group should employ the new normal form of communication, by holding virtual meetings to expedite action on this subject matter.
Isaac Yaw Obeng is with CUTS International Ghana. CUTS Ghana is a research and advocacy public policy think tank which works in the areas of consumer protection and education, governance, economic regulation, trade and development, regional integration, competition policy and law, etc. CUTS can be contacted through | www.cuts-accra.org