A United Nations trade expert, Frederick Alipui, has urged the African Union (AU) Commission to expedite action on the call made by Dr Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, Minister of Trade and Industry for an African trade information sharing portal to boost intra-African trade.
At the AU Ministers of Trade Conference held in Nairobi, Kenya on July 20, 2015, Dr Spio-Garbrah proposed the setting up of an African trade information sharing portal to promote trade and investment ties among African countries.
“In my professional view, Dr. Spio-Garbrah’s proposal is timely and critical to merit a follow-up by the African Union Commission.
“It is particularly imperative when viewed in the light of the AU’s goal of establishing a Continental Free Trade Area by 2017, which is just around the corner”, Mr Alipui stated in an interview with the Ghana News Agency in Accra.
He described the Trade Minister’s proposal as “visionary”, saying that the availability of trade information would enable buyers and sellers of goods/services on the continent to keep abreast of whatever commodities were on the market at any given time, their manufacturers and prevailing prices.
He said the convenience of such market intelligence would facilitate the conduct of business among African countries, as well as promote trade liberalization between the various sub-regional economic blocs on the continent, namely the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Common Market of East and Southern Africa (COMESA), Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), among others.
Mr Alipui, who also formerly worked as Director of Trade and Industry at the AU Commission, indicated that the information portal Dr Spio-Garbrah was advocating for, would offer a platform for both exporters and importers to identify investment opportunities, encourage business partnerships and joint ventures, as well as stimulate cross-border trade.
He recalled that in the 1980s, the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU) sought to create a “Pan- African Trade Information System (PANAFTIS) in its quest to set up an Africa-wide platform that would link up all trade information networks of member states of the various regional tradeblocs.
However, the PANAFTIS idea was put on hold due to the emergence then, of the World-Wide Web on the internet which revolutionised the access to information on a global scale, thus creating the impression that the PANAFTIS concept was no longer relevant.
“But with the proliferation of business and investment information today, it has become necessary to streamline the sharing of trade information in a systematic manner. The AU should therefore heed Dr Spio-Garbrah’s call and seek technical assistance to establish the portal”, Mr Alipui maintained.
He said the existence of such a platform would propel the AU’s agenda of boosting intra-African trade and thereby achieve the target goal of creating a continental free trade area by the 2017.
The trade expert also noted, however, that the manufacturing base in most African countries was weak and that there was the need for governments to make conscious efforts to step up the production of indigenous goods and services to be able to derive the full benefits of the continental market.
He observed that the government’s emphasis on running an export-led economy was in the right direction and suggested the targeting of about 20 local enterprises on pilot basis, which would be supported to undertake the production of local goods for export, with a focus on agriculture.
On the government’s efforts to create an enabling environment for economic growth, Mr Alipui observed that the drive was being hampered by high interest rates charged on loan facilities given to businesses and urged the government to do something about the situation in order to attract investors, both foreign and local.