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Home » Leveraging trade agreements for economic growth in the SADC region (Part 1)

Leveraging trade agreements for economic growth in the SADC region (Part 1)

By Eamonn Ryan

The Southern African Industrialisation Forum hosted a conference on 26–27 February with a range of panel discussions. This is part one of a six-part article.

Yavi Madurai: African Prosperity Fund co-founder and Peter Varndell: SADC Business Council executive secretary.
Yavi Madurai: African Prosperity Fund co-founder and Peter Varndell: SADC Business Council executive secretary. Image Credit: © Cold Link Africa

The following discussion is titled “Leveraging Trade Agreements for Economic Growth in the SADC Region”, with the following panel members and key stakeholders:

  • Peter Varndell: SADC Business Council Executive Secretary
  • Yavi Madurai: African Prosperity Fund Co-Founder
  • Dr Mustafa Sakr: AUDA-NEPAD Principal Programme Officer: Trade and Markets Unit
  • Ally Alexander Mwangolombe: SADC Secretariat Programme Officer – Customs Procedures
  • Rooma Narrainen: Mauritius Chamber of Commerce And Industry Head Of Advocacy

Madurai commenced the session by introducing the panelists, some of whom joined virtually, including representatives from the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) secretariat and the Mauritius Chamber of Commerce and Industry. In attendance were also delegates from the SADC Business Council, including Peter Varnell, the executive secretary.

Setting the stage for the discussion, Madurai expressed gratitude for the opportunity to address the critical topic of intra-African trade. Reflecting on the previous session’s intensity, he emphasised the significance of unpacking the multifaceted nature of trade within Africa.

Madurai provided insights into the African Prosperity Fund’s ongoing initiatives, particularly the forthcoming African Prosperity Report. She highlighted the report’s focus on identifying and addressing the ten key pressure points impeding Africa’s prosperity, ranging from infrastructure development and regional integration to good governance and human capital development.

Drawing on her experience as a gender activist, Madurai underscored the importance of leveraging Africa’s abundant natural resources to foster prosperity for all. She emphasised the need for strategic investments in human capital development and the diversification of economies to unlock Africa’s full potential.

The discussion also touched upon the challenges of political instability, access to finance and technological innovation. Madurai emphasised the urgent need to bridge the gap between technological innovation and practical implementation, citing missed opportunities such as the delayed introduction of electronic vehicles developed in Africa.

As the panel discussion unfolded, Madurai invoked an African proverb close to her heart: “Not everyone who chased the deer caught it, but he who caught it chased it.” This proverb encapsulated the essence of perseverance and determination in pursuing Africa’s economic prosperity despite the hurdles along the way.

The discussion delved into actionable strategies for advancing Africa’s prosperity, emphasising the imperative of transitioning from rhetoric to tangible efforts. Madurai introduced the concept of the ‘SADC Seven’, outlining key focus areas from a pan-African perspective.

Regional integration efforts topped the list, with a call to streamline trade partnerships and address barriers such as language and cultural differences. Infrastructure development, digitalisation, and e-commerce were underscored as pivotal for modernising Africa’s economic landscape.

Policy co-ordination and harmonisation emerged as critical challenges, particularly in light of prolonged border delays hindering trade flow. Global trade dynamics further compounded these challenges, necessitating proactive measures to navigate shifting market landscapes.

Madurai elucidated the concept of ‘perpetrators of African prosperity’, identifying systemic barriers thwarting Africa’s economic advancement. Strengthening institutions, promoting inclusive growth, and ensuring regional peace and stability were highlighted as essential prerequisites for unlocking Africa’s economic potential.

Accountability emerged as a central theme, with Madurai urging stakeholders to hold governments and institutions accountable for their commitments. She underscored the importance of leveraging trade agreements to drive economic growth and capitalise on emerging opportunities.

Madurai emphasised the need for concerted efforts by both the public and private sectors to address challenges and capitalise on opportunities. She called for a collaborative approach to regional co-operation, infrastructure development, and policy reforms to create an enabling environment for sustainable economic growth.

Continued in part two…