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COVID-19 presents unique opportunities to speed up Africa’s integration agenda and implementation of AfCFTA

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By Moono Mupotola

The Africa Regional Integration Index, ARII 2019, a new report jointly launched by the African Development Bank, UN Economic Commission for Africa, UNECA, and the Africa Union, AU, Commission launched the Africa Regional Integration Index report last week.

The launch of the second edition of ARII report, a joint initiative of the African Development Bank, AUC and UNECA, is important for Africa’s regional integration agenda. The first edition of the ARII was launched in 2016 after a directive from the authorities of the three institutions to monitor regional integration in Africa.

The ARII tracks progress made by African countries on regional integration within their regional economic communities, RECs, and across Africa. ARII evaluates five dimensions of regional integration for the 54 African countries and for the eight RECs recognised by the AU. It also calculates regional integration scores for the continent on the five dimensions, namely trade, production, macroeconomics, infrastructural, and the free movement of people.

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We believe that robust monitoring and consistent benchmarking will help accelerate regional integration, which is one of the key development strategies for the development of the continent. The idea is not to name and shame those countries and regions performing poorly in some of the dimensions but to identify areas where countries are performing well and where there is need for improvement. Integrate Africa is one of the Bank’s High 5development priorities and the ARII is a perfect tool that provides useful information for the institution’s intervention.

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the continent’s integration efforts. How we respond to this pandemic will determine how quickly we return to the laid down plans, failing which we run the risk of reversing the regional integration gains achieved over the years.

It also presents opportunities for us to hasten Africa’s integration agenda, especially the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA. A number of regional member countries’ economies are under severe strain. Economic activity has been disrupted with key sectors bearing the brunt of the pandemic. Tourism-related industries such as travel, conferencing, hospitality and entertainment services have been severely affected. For most industries, the recovery path will be arduous.

The report provides certain recommendations to deepen regional integration on the continent.

Of the five regional integration dimensions, the continent is performing poorly on productive and infrastructure integration. These two dimensions are very important for the other three dimensions (trade, macro-economics and movement of people) to function properly. To improve productive integration, the report recommends prioritising the development of regional value chains and technological advancement, among others.

Tackling non-tariff barriers and increased investment in research and development are key if the continent is to be competitive. There is a need to close the infrastructure financing gap on the continent to improve connectivity. There is room for improvement in the other dimensions and countries are encouraged to take advantage of the AfCFTA to boost intra-African trade.

Macro-economic convergence is key to facilitate convertibility of currencies and increasing investments on the continent. There is room to reform immigration policies without compromising national security, to enable countries with skills shortages to tap on the continent’s excess talent pool.

Moono Mupotola, Director of Regional Development and Regional Integration at African Development Bank.

Vanguard

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