AfCFTA for more prosperity: Africa's new open trade area has the potential to generate jobs, growth in the services market.

Author:Diallo, Aissatou

What does the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) mean for Adwoa Serwaa selling her banana chips in Kumasi market in Ghana, for Malala Rakotodrainabe a vanilla wholesaler in the Analakely market in Antananarivo, Madagascar, and for Mohammed Khaled, a tech entrepreneur providing e-solutions to restaurants in Marrakesh, Morocco? How can the AfCFTA affect positively on their businesses in the coming years?

While the African private sector is the direct beneficiary of the AfCFTA, in many ways the publicity about the agreement has been limited to high-level government officials, trade negotiators, economists, diplomats and to some extent to larger companies and multinationals.

Given its mandate of empowering micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), the International Trade Centre (ITC) has an important role to play in ensuring that establishing a single market directly benefits MSMEs, in particular women- and youth-owned businesses.

ITC's current portfolio of projects in Africa carries a weight of over $ 100 million. This has been a great year for ITC and 2019 project delivery amounted to almost $40 million, roughly half of ITC's total expenditure. The percentages were 37% and 42% for 2017 and 2018 respectively. We are thus on a sustained growth path in Africa.

Today youth and women are crucial economic agents in Africa. For instance, African Union and other estimates show that women account for about 70% of informal cross-border trade. They are involved in almost all sectors of the economy and make important contributions to the economic well-being of the continent, yet their role is almost always relegated due to societal and cultural norms. They face harassment in various forms, especially when they take up cross-border activities. This deters women already in business and new entrants from engaging in cross-border trade.

With a harmonized continental trade regime, non-tariff barriers faced by women will be reduced. They will be able to move their goods across borders with relative ease. Furthermore, a harmonized continental trade regime will offer young women opportunities to stage new businesses. ITC intends to place SheTrades, its flagship programme for women economic empowerment, at the centre of its efforts to make the AfCFTA work.

The demographic dividend is also a huge opportunity for the continent, as youth will contribute to Africa's structrual transformation. According to the United Nations, 226 million young...

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