Many African countries cannot enforce customs agreements, and this could be a major hindrance to the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, its secretary-general Wamkele Mene has said.
“In general, the capacity of customs authorities is very, very low,” he told a webinar organised by the ANC’s Progressive Business Forum recently.
Citing his experience during a small crossing on the border between Nigeria and Niger recently, Mene said, “and it was very clear to me that there are countries on the continent who simply cannot implement this agreement, and that is going to be a hindrance, and that is going to be a very, very big challenge.
“They have the political will, the legal commitment is there, but the capacity is what we have to improve on.”
This wasn’t true for all the countries. “Some countries and some regions have very strong customs procedures,” he said.
“They can enforce the customs rules that we have agreed to.”
The Guardian had earlier reported concerns about Nigeria’s capacity to implement the trade agreement without the required infrastructure and list of liberalised items.
According to the Director-General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Dr. Muda Yusuf, many small businesses depend on cross border trade for a living, while many manufacturers also leverage the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS) to boost their businesses and source their raw materials from countries in the sub-region.
“The biggest challenge with border management is an institutional issue. We need to demand accountability from the institutions that have the responsibility for border policing and management,” he added.
Mene said the lockdown associated with the Covid-19 pandemic had delayed the implementation of the AfCFTA from last year until the start of this year, but it came with many lessons.
“We learned that, because of this disruption in global supply chains, Africa must accelerate industrial development so that we rely less on global supply chains and rely more on regional supply chains,” he said.
“Covid-19 was a hindrance but it also helped focus our minds on what we need to do to accelerate our industrial development as a continent.”
He said the distribution of vaccines around the world also shows that Africa had to develop its generic drug industry “so that the generic drug industry is at the service of Africa’s public health imperatives as well as at the service of Africa’s industrialisation”.