To benefit from the African Continental Free Trade Area, Zimbabwe must deploy deliberate strategies towards ensuring the private sector, a key stakeholder in production and trade, is strategically positioned to exploit larger market opportunities offered by the AfCFTA, with reduced tariff and non-tariff barriers, says Batanai Chikwene, an Economic Affairs Officer at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
Speaking at a workshop organised by the Zimbabwe government, the African Union Commission (AUC) and the ECA in Harare today, Mr. Chikwene said it was imperative for Zimbabwe to address supply-side constraints limiting the productive capacity of its industry to stimulate competitiveness and growth.
Ensuring coherence among fiscal, monetary policy, national industrial policies and trade promotion initiatives is critical, he told participants attending the workshop.
For Zimbabwe, Mr. Chikwene said, the AfCFTA opens up new market opportunities in Africa beyond the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) which are the country’s traditional destinations and sources of exports and imports.
“It is time for the private sector to look beyond Zimbabwe’s neighbouring countries and explore trade and investment opportunities in the rest of continent in both trade in goods and trade in services,” he said.
“For the benefits of the AfCFTA to be fully realised, it has to be backed up by increased productive capacity, enhanced regional value chains, and removal of internal obstacles to promote the growth of SMEs so that Zimbabwean companies can compete well in the liberalized regional market.”
Mr. Chikwene said through strategic actions, the government working with the private sector, can leverage the AfCFTA for Zimbabwe’s reindustrialisation and economic diversification as well as promoting the manufacturing sector and stimulating agricultural production.
“Key reforms are required to ensure that industrialization, trade and investment generate optimum benefits for Zimbabwe. These include reforms in the areas of trade facilitation, infrastructure development, doing business reforms to create a better conducive environment for the private sector, product quality and standards and the general policy environment, its consistency, clarity and stability to facilitate the evolution of a competitive industrial sector able to capture opportunities arising from the AfCFTA.”
Mr. Chikwene congratulated Zimbabwe for featuring in the Top-20 improvers in Doing Business 2020. The country has made regulatory improvements in five areas measured by Doing Business resulting in starting a business becoming easier than it was a few years ago.
“As tariffs go down in the African single market, these are the kind of reforms that will give Zimbabwean operators an urge as they compete globally,” he said.
He assured the Zimbabwe government of the ECA’ s continued technical support, working with the AUC in assisting the country in its efforts to develop a national strategy to benefit from the AfCFTA.
Beatrice Claudia Chaytor of the AUC’s Trade and Industry Division said possibilities presented by the AfCFTA for Zimbabwe’s businesses are endless, with expectations of boosting of intra-African trade in excess of 70 percent through the dismantling of tariff and non-tariff barriers, and the use of tools launched during the AU’s Niamey Summit in July.
“These possibilities exist for both large conglomerates and small and medium-sized enterprises. Such businesses usually struggle to penetrate more advanced overseas markets, but are well positioned to tap into regional export destinations and can use regional markets as stepping stones for expanding into overseas markets at a later point,” she said.
“The AfCFTA will make it easier for such MSMEs to supply inputs to larger regional companies, which in turn tap into export markets, creating regional value chains across the continent.”
Ms. Chaytor said the government would need to promote economic diversification through the development of policies that steer away from a focus on export of raw materials into value addition and manufacturing; and policies that facilitate entrepreneurial search and discovery in general.
Businesses, she said, would need to collaborate amongst themselves and with government to organize themselves better for advocacy, policy influencing and improved export performance, leveraging their collective voice to contribute to the transformation of the Zimbabwean economy.
The AfCTA is envisioned to unite 1.3 billion people on the continent, create a $4 trillion economic bloc and tremendously boost intra-African trade.
The workshop was attended by representatives from Zimbabwe’s private sector; government departments; United Nations agencies and other key stakeholders.