While growing efforts are underway to boost intra-African trade, African entrepreneurs insist that a lot remains to be done to boost such trade.
“Things are improving and getting a lot better. The ports are getting refurbished, the road infrastructure is improving and plans for rail connections are underway,” said Nigerian entrepreneur and prominent Pan-African banker Tony Elumelu.
However, the Nigerian banker, who is collaborating with global investors, including legendary British investor Richard Branson, to boost trade and investment in Africa, said in an exclusive interview with PANA in Nairobi, Kenya, Tuesday, that the African continent still lacked a few basics such as continental banks to boost trade.
“There are a lot of things that need to improve. We need to work with governments to make Africa more conducive for investments,” Mr. Elumelu said.
The Nigerian investor said efforts to improve trade within Africa should also focus on building the foundation of emerging African businesses, as well as improving business education, training and networking to ensure businesses are run successfully.
“We are not where we should be. There are tremendous efforts to improve the soft infrastructure, like ensuring the free movement of people, clearance of goods and services to improve trade within Africa,” Elumelu said.
Speaking on the plans to discuss the improvement of regional trade at the forthcoming African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Elumelu said a true integration of Africa would succeed only if African institutions are strengthened.
“If we are talking about true integration, a supra agency that focuses on the implementation of these policies and legislation should be created,” he said.
This year’s AU Summit is holding under the theme: “Boosting Intra-African Trade.”
African countries are known to trade the least with their neighbours, and experts insist the lack of formal intra-African trade is tied to the continent’s colonial legacy, which make African countries dependent on goods produced by their former colonial masters.
According to the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), trade among African countries currently make up 11% of trade in Africa, meaning most countries trade with the West as well as the Middle and Far East countries like Japan and China.
“African countries have not focused enough on expanding intra-African trade due to the high tariffs, customs issues,
corruption and lack of capacity,” said Desire Assogbavi, who heads the Oxfam Office accredited to the AU Commission.
Informal intra-Africa trade, especially between border communities, is often not captured by national data, and is unregulated and untaxed, which makes it impossible to quantify.
African trade ministers have been discussing a series of new measures that could boost trade within Africa, among which are a proposal to create a continental Free Trade Area; a draft plan of action to boost trade by at least 25-30% in the next 10 years and a set of policies to be discussed during the forthcoming AU Summit.
But Elumelu called for a new set of rules to be set for all African countries, in particular to ensure that states no longer exercise absolute controls over key sectors of the economy that limit trade with the others.
“Let us set rules for competition. There are countries that are still closed to foreign institutions. I call on these governments to
rethink the situation and stop protectionism because this will not help their economies, especially in the area of telecoms licensing,” he said.
He also stressed the need for African countries to review their trade alliances with the rest of the world, in particular to process their raw materials instead of shipping them overseas; and to focus on the financial sector, by licensing more African banks to
ease the payment systems for businesses.
Elumelu chairs Heirs Holdings, a Nigerian holding company with interests in the financial markets, agriculture, oil and
gas, and also runs the Tony Elumelu Foundation, which invests in projects to reduce poverty in Africa