The International Trade Centre (ITC) has commended the African Union on the establishment of Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
The Executive Director of ITC, Ms Arancha Gonzalez, gave the commendation on Thursday during the opening ceremony of the World Export Development Forum (WEDF).
She stated that Africa came up with the AfCFTA initiative at a time when there was a thick cloud over trade in many other parts of the world.
The WEDF is holding on margins of the 2019 Africa Week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
According to Gonzalez, these are difficult times as protectionism is on the rise.
She said unilateralism was also on the rise, resulting in reduced trade growth, reduced foreign investment flows, and reduced business confidence.
Gonzalez added that uncertainty had resulted in lower growth prospects for all regions around the world.
“Africa is sending a different message.
“After decades of market fragmentation, the continent has embarked on creating the largest integrated trade and investment zone in the world.
“This positive development in Africa comes at a turbulent time for the world.
“The digital, social and ecological revolutions are transforming how we produce, trade, and consume,” she said.
Gonzalez explained that each of these revolutions has a bearing on how Africa trades with the world; and with itself.
According to her, each will affect the future of African businesses, especially micro, small and medium-sized enterprises that makeup over 90 per cent of firms.
She explained that the global value chains were enabled by the communication and transport revolution of the last two decades.
Gonzalez added that automation and 3D printing is set to change manufacturing patterns.
The ITC boss said the profound digital transformation of economies – from blockchain, artificial intelligence, and big data – has only just begun.
“For consumers, e-commerce is changing the day-to-day way we shop, dress and eat.
“Digitization is a great wave that touches everything. And Africa must ride this wave.
“As well as being a continent of traders from ancient times to today, nowhere in the world are people as in tune with nature’s bounty than in Africa.
“Climate change, pollution, and threats to biodiversity put all that at risk,” she said.
Gonzalez also stated that sustainability must be an integral part of any decision made on trade, growth and development.
She said businesses needed to build resilience, mitigation, and sustainability into their calculations.
According to her, regulations and policies need to find the sweet spot of supporting growth, while investing in the planet.
Gonzalez said companies, these days, were unlikely to achieve long-term economic success without taking into account environmental factors.
She added that mass movements inspired by young people have gone global.
“We see more and more people mobilizing to address injustice. This is part of a broader social revolution.
“Many are motivated by questions of economic inequality, a sense that prosperity is futile if it leaves people behind.
“Here, Africa must ensure the market opening is inclusive. It is the only way to achieve the UN 2030 Agenda,” she said.
She said inclusivity also meant empowering women and young people to participate in open trade.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the ceremony was attended by Ethiopia’s Minister of Trade and Industry, Mr. Fetlework Gebre-Egziabher.
AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry, Mr Albert Muchanga, and others were also in attendance.
Gonzalez added that inclusivity also meant building partnerships; commercial, public-private partnerships.
Globally, ITC has estimated that increasing annual investments in small and medium-sized enterprises by $1 trillion would yield dividends in delivering the UN Sustainable Development Goals and healthy returns for investors.
NAN also reports that close to 300 companies are taking part in the ITCs B2B matchmaking sessions, which have been extended till Friday.
Also, close to 100 investors are also in the capital of Ethiopia, discussing investment opportunities.