The Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Dr Vera Songwe says with free trade, the SADC Region and Africa as a whole, will be better off through increased trade, more jobs and regional connectivity.
Dr Songwe was addressing the 37th SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government in Pretoria which was held under the theme: partnering with private sector in developing industry and value chains.
“Free trade will allow creation of jobs and regional connectivity, especially for the youth,” said Dr Songwe, adding that already SADC has higher than average Regional Economic Communities (REC) scores on free movement and financial integration according to the Regional Integration Index of 2016.
She congratulated the SADC leaders for their firm commitment and the strides made towards regional integration, urging them to use their collective strength to deal with the uncertainties brought about by signs of increasing protectionism and fragmented globalization, including Brexit.
"SADC is home to some of the most liberal African economies, some of which have already achieved up to 100% in the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) negotiations," she said, noting that the SADC Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is fully functional with levels of ambition exceeding that of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) itself in areas such as value addition, agro-processing and pharmaceuticals amongst others.
She called for strong political buy-in and leadership to unlock bottlenecks in CFTA negotiations and to drive domestic reforms that will empower the private sector to buy into and take advantage of the CFTA process.
“Studies confirm positive gains for the CFTA, with intra-African trade projected to expand by an estimated 50-200 percent in the long run. This is the more reason to collectively fast track CFTA. CFTA would constitute a USD3 trillion zone and create a market of over a billion people,” added Dr Songwe, pledging to work with SADC and other stakeholders towards the realization of the CFTA.
SADC played a pivotal role in the creation of the COMESA-EAC-SADC TFTA. With its population size of about 360 million and total GDP of USD 600 billion (2016), TFTA holds strong potential to drive the CFTA.
The African Union set the year 2018 as a target to finalise negotiations for the CFTA whose main objective is to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments. The CFTA is expected to pave the way for accelerating the establishment of the Continental Customs Union.