Opinion Piece

Collaborative efforts needed for South Africa to benefit from the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)

The coming into force of the AfCFTA slated for January 2021 presents South Africa with great opportunities to benefit from the largest free trade arrangement ever. The electing of South Africa’s Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition (dtic) Mr. Ebrahim Patel as the chair of the African Ministers of Trade (AMOT), a ministerial body responsible for the finalisation of the trade negotiations is an indication of the high confidence African states have in South Africa in ensuring that the AfCFTA is success. Also, the African Union is led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, implying that South Africa has a critical role to play so as not to disappoint the high expectations from the rest of the continent. 

From the agricultural sector perspective, this article aims at providing insights into the low hanging fruits that African states should start focussing on so as to realise some benefits even within the short- and medium- term while taking cognisance of the fact that some capital-intensive interventions like the road infrastructure may only be realised in the long-term. The most critical are the non-tariff measures (NTMs), which according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) are as a result of official regulations implemented by countries across the continent. Such NTMs include technical barriers to trade (TBTs), Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures (SPS) and Pre-shipment inspections, among others.  Importantly, these official regulations at country level are easier to amend as along as African countries recognise and appreciate the benefits that are bound to accrue as a result of the effective implementation of the AfCFTA. 

South Africa’s intra-Africa agricultural trade is highly characterised by very many SPS measures (over 1340) and TBTs (about 815) and to a less extent Pre-inspections. Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Morocco and Ethiopia in that order, among others are the most restrictive. In general, SPS and TBTs are affecting “prepared food stuffs” the most as well as “live animals and their derived products”. Thus, well knowing South Africa’s intra-Africa agricultural trade is largely skewed towards processed or secondary products, it’s prudent that South Africa embarks on engaging concerned African governments that impose non-scientifically justifiable NTMs to revisit their national regulations, provided that the process does not contravene other international agreements and regulations. However, prior to country-country engagements, it is also important that South Africa’s agricultural industries identify the specific products of concern and the particular African states where they encounter market access challenges, a basis upon which substantive research may be undertaken to generate informed evidence. Therefore, by harmonising such highlighted industry and product specific NTMs across the different trade blocs, the benefits of intra-Africa agricultural trade under the ambit of the AfCFTA are bound to be realised sooner while other longer-term and more capital-intensive initiatives required to unlock markets are also underway. A related technical brief is accessible at: https://www.namc.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/TRADE-POLICY-BRIEF.pdf .

To complement the efforts of reducing NTMs, there is an urgent need to facilitated trade so as to foster the efficiency of customs and border management clearance. African countries need to work together to improve on the competence and quality of service delivery by customs agencies. For instance, the initiative of using “One Stop Border Post (OSBP)” arrangement will greatly reduce the time required to process border clearance for both goods and travellers. The benefits of this arrangement are eminent in the East Africa Community with more than 10 OSBPs and the time taken by travellers and goods to cross borders has been noted to significantly reduce from days to about 1.5 minutes to 30 minutes on average, respectively.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Mzansi Agriculture Talk or its members.

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