A man sits outside the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat office in Accra, capital of Ghana, August 17, 2020. Ghanaian President on Monday handed over the edifice housing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) secretariat to the African Union (AU) for the commencement of work. (Ghana Presidency/Handout via Xinhua)

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) can benefit from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) experience in liberalization of trade, a UN official said on Monday.

Stephen Karingi, director of regional integration and trade division, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) told a virtual meeting that for the AfCFTA, COMESA is a critical and important building bloc, with progress in important areas of integration that the AfCFTA can lean on.

“The AfCFTA can also benefit from COMESA’s experience in building trade supporting institutions, such as in the areas of trade finance, trade insurance, regional payment systems, and in the context of simplified trade regimes,” Karingi said during the seventh COMESA annual research forum.

Karingi observed that the successful implementation of the AfCFTA would depend in part on regional economic blocs (RECs), both in terms of leveraging their achievements and also learning from and avoiding some of the pitfalls and challenges they have faced.

He noted that when fully implemented, the pan African trade pact will consolidate the continent’s markets into a single market of more than 1.2 billion people.

“This will in the first instance be through elimination of tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and liberalization of services trade. This offers tremendous possibilities for businesses across the continent, while expanding the tax base for governments as a result of expanded or new businesses’ opportunities,” he added.

The UN official said that the AfCFTA provides COMESA countries opportunities to position themselves on critical nodes of regional value chains for both goods and services.

Karingi added that the advent of the AfCFTA and how it relates with the trade integration agendas of RECs is underpinned by diverse issues, opportunities and challenges.

“These will need to be properly engaged, including through research and analyses. This would deepen understanding of the AfCFTA and RECs level integration agreements,” he noted.

Karingi observed that the larger market space of the AfCFTA would serve as an incentive for investors, as well as facilitate the transfer of technologies, promote industrialization and the enhancement of productivity.

“The cumulative effects of these, it is hoped, would be the boosting, not only of inter-REC trade, but more importantly, intra-REC trade, including among COMESA member states,” he observed.

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