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Home » Leveraging trade agreements for economic growth in the SADC region (Part 6)

Leveraging trade agreements for economic growth in the SADC region (Part 6)

By Eamonn Ryan

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

The programme of the Forum.
The programme of the Forum. Supplied by @ColdLinkAfrica

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 five.

Panellists were given the opportunity for closing remarks, where they reiterated key points discussed during the session, highlighted ongoing efforts and initiatives, and emphasised the importance of collaboration and continued engagement in driving economic growth and industrialisation in Africa.

Overall, the conversation provided insights into the opportunities and challenges associated with trade and industrialisation in Africa, as well as the efforts being made to address them through policy implementation, collaboration and stakeholder engagement.

The message will be for businesses, SMEs, and of course, women entrepreneurs. I believe businesses should be proactive. Challenges are inevitable, but they won’t stop. The operating environment is uncertain, but it’s up to you to take up the challenge, see what’s improved, and look ahead. Africa, in the coming years, will be a totally different place to work and do business with. So, my message is to move forward, stay positive, and it’s up to us in the business community and business associations to play a key role in facilitating trade integration on the continent’s potential.

There’s an interesting issue around women’s participation. You will be pleased to know that from a mere 20 just after the 2020 February Summit, we have increased the number of women employees in the secretariat to about 150 by the end of 2023. We were probably the first African Union agency to achieve such. Challenges are our biggest opportunities, and together with the private sector, we should leverage the AfCFTA framework, which is a local instrument that helps justify some of the investments which might not have been possible given the disintegration of our economies and the continent. So, we should leverage that. We are in full implementation of the AfCFTA and are available to serve the continent. So, we are just a call away to many of you.

Varndell said: I think probably my parting shot is more of a request than a statement. We are guided by the economic recovery position paper that we did just after Covid. It has given us good guidance in terms of what the key sectors are for us to focus on and what we see as opportunities for business in the region. Regarding the relevance and the role of the SADC Business Councilors, our appeal to businesses and business associations is to have regional strategies. It’s only once we have regional strategies of businesses knowing what they’re trying to do at a regional level that we can become relevant and active for them. And we find that, in our experience so far, there’s not a lot of companies that are saying, “I’m trying to do this in Malawi, how can you help me to get it?”

Madurai: Before I rushed here, I penned something in terms of the story of Africa changing: the story is that it’s future prosperity. Once upon a time in Africa, in the Southern African Development Community region, there existed a group of nations with diverse cultures, economies, and rich with resources. Among them were countries with each of its own strengths and challenges. In this region, there was a prevailing sense of potential and huge possibility, but also a recognition of the need for collaboration to unlock it. Trade between the nations was hindered by barriers such as tariffs, bureaucratic red tape, and logistical challenges. However, leaders recognised that by working together, they could create a more prosperous future for all enterprising minds within the SADC and began to envision a grand trade agreement – one that would break down barriers and foster greater economic integration. After years of negotiations, setbacks and compromise, a breakthrough finally occurred.

The leaders of the SADC nations came together to sign the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement or CEPA as we know it, a landmark treaty aimed at promoting trade and investment within the region. CEPA was designed to facilitate the free movement of goods services, and people across borders, what the European Union calls the four fundamental freedoms, while also addressing issues like intellectual property rights, competition, policy and dispute resolution. It was a bold and ambitious endeavour, but one that held the promise of substantial benefits for all involved as SADC took a backseat.

The SADC region has experienced a remarkable transformation. Trade barriers were dismantled, allowing goods and services to flow more freely between nations, businesses flourished as they gained access to larger markets, and a wider range of resources. Entrepreneurs seized new opportunities, harnessing the collective strength of the SADC to drive innovation and growth. One of the most significant outcomes of CEPA was the creation of regional value chains, where businesses from different countries collaborated to produce goods and services more efficiently.

Over time, the success of CEPA became evident in the improved living standards of people across the region. Poverty rates declined, employment opportunities expanded, and infrastructure development accelerated – the SADC began to emerge as a dynamic and competitive economic bloc on the global stage, attracting investment and trade from all over the world. As the years passed, the spirit of co-operation that fuelled the success of CEPA continued to guide the SADC nations in their pursuit of prosperity. New challenges arose, but the bonds forged through the trade agreement. Remember, with regional strategies new challenges arose, but the bonds forged through the trade agreement remain strong, enabling the region to overcome obstacles and seize opportunities together. And so, the story of the successful trade agreement in the SADC region served as a powerful reminder of the transformative power of collaboration and co-operation in building a brighter future for all with all the people of SADC were prosperous.