THE BLOG
25/05/2018 14:48 SAST | Updated 25/05/2018 14:48 SAST

Tilting Trade Towards Africa: Becoming The World’s Food Basket

'The scales of international trading need to be balanced with the world’s poorest nations, especially Africa, to achieve fairness.'

Afolabi Sotunde/ Reuters

As we celebrate Africa Day and all the continent's historical accomplishments, let's also look ahead and determine how best we can up the ante in terms of trade, so that Africa does not lose out on the benefits of it. The scales of international trading need to be balanced with the world's poorest nations, especially Africa, to achieve fairness.

Africa has lots to offer the world, and it could easily become the world's food basket and a force to be reckoned with. But for this to happen, trade needs to be favourable — and not tilted towards more developed nations with huge export capacity and greater competitiveness. To ensure fairness of trade, Africa needs to be on the same level.

The debate on trade is a contentious one, with many arguing that free trade will never exist and that policies on trade should be in the public interest.

Let's for a moment look at the signing of the recent African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA). On March 21 this year, the CFTA was signed in Rwanda, advanced by the African Union in accordance with its 2063 Agenda. It details a long-term development plan to create the largest free trade area in the world.

It aims to create a single African market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, by liberalising trade and making it easier for African businesses to trade within Africa. The A.U. predicted that this plan would increase the level of intra-African trade by 60 percent by 2022. It hopes to gradually eliminate tariff barriers between member states to make doing cross-border business easier.

The agreement, with a predicted cumulative GDP of $2.5-trillion [~R31-trillion], may look really good on paper — but in reality, will it be conclusively implemented, completed and monitored? Surely our leaders need to be accountable to the people of Africa for what they sign.

Africa remains the poorest and most underdeveloped continent in the world, despite technological advances and massive efforts over the past two decades to change the status quo.

They need to explain what the strategy entails, provide an outline of the plan, detail how it will be implemented, clarify who will be monitoring deliverables, and illustrate how the output will be measured. Africa has been scarred by politicians who love signing agreements and creating huge publicity for a moment, with Africa's people not seeing the results in the long term.

Only 10 A.U. members chose not to sign the CFTA — including Africa's largest economy, Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari has been quoted as saying that his administration will not be in a hurry to enter into any agreement that would make the country a dumping ground and jeopardise the security of the nation. In my opinion, these are real considerations one should take into account to determine whether it has merit or not.

Last month, writer David Pilling in an opinion piece in the Financial Times said the CFTA could unlock Africa's potential, even though the principles of free trade were under ideological attack in many parts of the world.

"Africa needs free trade for many reasons. The most important is to remake history," he said in the article.

"Colonialism left Africa in bad shape to develop. It broke the continent into more than 50 pieces, few of which today have the scale to attract sufficient investment or ramp up manufacturing. The whole of Africa has a gross domestic product of about $2.5-trillion [~R31-trillion], roughly the same as the U.K. Imagine if Britain were broken up into 54 units, each with its own politics, language, regulatory environment and hard border."

He said that even if they tried, many postcolonial African governments were unable to break the basic pattern of trade: ship raw materials out and bring manufactured goods in. Most African economies were stuck as suppliers of basic commodities and missing out on the classic benefits of international trade.

Africa can continue to rise if the scales of trade are tilted toward poorer nations that have a huge basket, filled with a variety of commodities and goods to offer.

Trading with each other was a way out of that bind, he said.

Meanwhile, Debate Wise argues that poorer countries will suffer due to the "unfairness" and "expensive" nature of free trade agreements. It believes poor countries will ultimately abandon free trade agreements, and they would cause more harm than benefits.

Africa can continue to rise if the scales of trade are tilted toward poorer nations that have a huge basket, filled with a variety of commodities and goods to offer.

It has an abundance in natural resources and mineral reserves, and holds about 98 percent of the world's reserves of chromium, 90 percent of its cobalt and platinum, 70 percent of the world's tantalite, 64 percent of its manganese, 50 percent of its gold and one-third of its uranium. Guinea is the world's largest exporter of bauxite, and the Democratic Republic of Congo has more than 30 percent of the world's diamond reserves.

Africa remains the poorest and most underdeveloped continent in the world, despite technological advances and massive efforts over the past two decades to change the status quo. Surely, the time for written agreements that remain unimplemented is over. Now is the time for action.

Mimi Kalinda is a Tutu Fellow and thought leader on the African narrative.

This article was originally published on Africa Communications Group. It has been edited for HuffPost.