The ECA Office for North Africa held on Wednesday 14 October 2020 a webinar on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the mitigation of the COVID-19 Impact on trade strategies in North Africa.
The meeting provided representatives of trade ministries, private sector representatives and academics from Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia with an opportunity to share their experiences in using national trade strategies to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on populations’ health and access to food, as well as the pandemic’s repercussions on foreign trade.
Participants observed that COVID-19 has disrupted supply chains and international trade, triggering a reorganisation of international trade and increased protectionism.
“We expected this crisis to impact foreign trade. Between April and May 2020, more than 57 countries across the world took restrictive measures which impacted international trade in medicines and food. However, we did not expect to witness such a decrease in foreign trade within the African continent itself, and especially North Africa where trade between countries is very low and accounting for a mere 3 to 5% of national foreign trade“, said Khaled Hussein, Director a.i. of the ECA Office for North Africa.
ECA experts consider that the AfCFTA can help Africa mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and speed up its economic recovery, including by helping reduce market fragmentation, facilitating the rise of African value chains and enabling economic diversification. Implementing the AfCFTA would also provide companies – and especially SMEs – which have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic – with an opportunity to access new supply markets and outlets for their products, including online.
Participants took note of the delays in the AfCFTA implementation process and stressed the difficulty of having to carry out negotiations remotely.
The meeting came up with several recommendations including: 1) Making up for negotiation delays regarding e-commerce, as it has significantly grown in importance since the start of the ongoing crisis. 2) Speeding up negotiations on services and the harmonization of technical norms and regulations to reduce non-tariff barriers to trade. 3) Ensuring that rules of origin benefit member countries first.
Participants considered the possibility of making special arrangements to accelerate the trade liberalization on goods required for the fight against COVID-19.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the Tunisian representative announced his country’s collaboration with the ECA Office for North Africa to design a national strategy for the AfCFTA.
The webinar recommendations will be submitted to member countries at the 35th meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts for North Africa scheduled on 17 November 2020.