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Home » Leveraging trade agreements for economic growth in the SADC region (Part 3)

Leveraging trade agreements for economic growth in the SADC region (Part 3)

By Eamonn Ryan

The Southern African Industrialisation Forum hosted a conference on 26–27 February 2024 with a range of panel discussions. This is part three of a six-part article.

A section of the audience in-person at the conference.
A section of the audience in-person at the conference. Supplied by: @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

… continued from part two.

Navigating trade agreements: insights from Mauritius

In the intricate landscape of international trade agreements, Mauritius occupies a unique vantage point, serving as a hub for various regional and global trade pacts. From the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), and from the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Mauritius plays a key role in facilitating trade across borders. However, not all agreements yield the same outcomes. Some flourish, while others falter.

When dissecting the anatomy of successful trade agreements versus those that fall short, it is imperative to delve into the underlying factors that contribute to their efficacy or lack thereof. At the Mauritius Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI), we have had the privilege of observing and participating in trade negotiations firsthand, providing us with valuable insights into what makes trade agreements work and what hinders their effectiveness.

First and foremost, successful trade agreements are built on a foundation of robust consultations and stakeholder engagement. Prior to entering into negotiations, it is crucial to solicit input from diverse stakeholders, including businesses, to ensure that their interests are adequately represented. Market access provisions lie at the heart of any trade agreement. For an agreement to be effective, it must offer favorable market access for key export products while also safeguarding the interests of domestic industries. Striking the right balance between promoting exports and protecting local industries is essential for sustainable economic growth.

Furthermore, rules of origin play an important role in ensuring impact of trade agreements. By establishing clear rules of origin that are conducive to local operators, countries can foster industrialisation and economic diversification. This necessitates extensive consultations with the private sector to ascertain their needs and preferences.

However, the efficacy of trade agreements extends beyond their inception. Implementation is where the rubber meets the road. Merely signing agreements is not enough; governments must demonstrate a firm commitment to translating policy into action. This entails developing comprehensive action plans, building capacity within the private sector, and establishing efficient platforms for dispute resolution. An efficient National Trade Portal (NTP) can streamline trade procedures and minimise bureaucratic hurdles, thereby enhancing the ease of doing business.

Yet, even the most well-crafted trade agreements can falter in the face of extraneous challenges. Connectivity constraints, inadequate infrastructure, and lack of digitalisation pose significant impediments to trade facilitation. Addressing these underlying issues requires concerted efforts at the national level, with each country taking proactive steps to improve its trade ecosystem.

Looking ahead, as we approach the 10-year implementation anniversary of the industrialisation strategy and roadmap adopted by African heads of state in 2015, it is imperative to reflect on both the successes and challenges encountered thus far. While progress has been made in certain sectors, such as mining and climate change initiatives, formidable obstacles remain, particularly in pharmaceuticals where global supply chains present formidable hurdles.

While trade agreements provide a framework for economic co-operation and integration, their effectiveness hinges on a myriad of factors, including stakeholder engagement, robust implementation, and addressing systemic challenges. By navigating these complexities with diligence and foresight, we can unlock the full potential of trade agreements to drive economic growth and prosperity in Africa.

Continued in part four…