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TRADE WINDS MusT Blow

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Getting Africa out of the development woods will require more than technology and telecommunications. After decades of lost trading opportunities, Africa needs a new trading lens. Personal and institutional initiatives to close the lacuna between ‘extant realities’ and development ideals is desperately needed.

New advanced technologies, progressive policies and new investment models to integrate economic and political systems would certainly help. Africa must open up its markets to African customers. We need to build new factories, generate energy solutions and open up trade corridors across the vast continent.

Intra-Africa tourism barely exists and intra-Africa trade is low, between 10 and 12% of total trade. Trade within Africa needs to surpass trade between Africa and the rest of the world. West Africa now accounts for 40% of the total African, Caribbean and Pacific trade with the European Union.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) region accounts for about 45% of Africa’s trade with the rest of the world. In East Africa, Kenya’s top 10 export markets are Uganda, Tanzania, Netherlands, the United States (US), Britain, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, UAE, South Sudan and Egypt. The five African countries here account for more than 30% of Kenya’s total exports. Kenya’s tea makers are yet to make a serious push into Nigeria, Africa’s largest market.

Ethiopia, Rwanda and Burundi produce excellent Arabica coffee. Most of it ends up in North America and Europe. You will search very hard to find East African produce in stores between Dakar and Douala. European coffee brands however abound.

Africa is largely disconnected from itself due to its poor infrastructure, restrictive immigration policies, corruption, failure to formalize informal trade, and unclear customs and immigration rules. Fresh facts emerging, however, suggest it is improving slightly. Data for 2013/14 shows that intra-African finance is a significant source of foreign investment in low and middle-income countries such as Burundi (79%), Namibia (42%), Rwanda (62%), South Sudan (64%) and Uganda (45%).

National and regional policy frameworks need to be strengthened and harmonized. This is a job for governments, companies and citizens alike.

Easing trade barriers would help. Building on a current system which allows citizens visa-free access to other West African countries for 90 days, the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is planning to launch a biometric identity card in 2016. It will be a digital identification card, travel document, and residence and work permit. This biometric passport is expected to resolve the regulatory bottlenecks that penalize local businesses at the expense of their international competitors.

Similar integration plans in other regional economic blocs also exist, aimed at reducing the expense and stress of traveling and trading across Africa.

Kinshasa and Brazzaville are only divided by the Congo River, yet a return ferry ticket cost the equivalent of $40, more than 40% of the average monthly wage for a Kinshasa resident. It costs less to move a container of maize from the flood plains of the Mississippi, US, to Dakar in Senegal, than it is to take the same harvest from Dakar to Tema in southern Ghana.

An ongoing diplomatic détente between Accra and Nairobi seems poised to attenuate these issues.

Puzzled by the poor levels of trade between Ghana and Kenya, Leah Nduati Lee, a Kenyan married to a Ghanaian, organized the very first Kenya Trade Expo in the Ghanaian capital last November. The three-day event smoothed trade relations between the two regional giants, building on the seven agreements signed in 2014 by President John Dramani Mahama and President Uhuru Kenyatta, to consolidate existing economic and trade ties, and deepen institutional cooperation in the energy, ICT, trade, tourism, transport, agriculture and education sectors.

According to Kenya’s Export Promotion Council, the country’s exports to Ghana were worth KSh479 million (around $4.7 million) in 2014, while imports from Ghana were worth KSh369 million ($3.6 million).

During the expo, Kenya’s envoy to West Africa, Ambassador Tom Amolo, said that consensus building between Africa governments to tackle integration issues is beginning to happen.

“Kenya is fully open for business,” says Amolo. “Our investment promotion frameworks continue to foment long lasting networks and commercial alliances between the business communities in East and West Africa… Deepening and broadening integration is essential for Africa’s inclusive development.”

The momentum between the gateway economies across Africa needs to be sustained.

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