The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is an ambitious endeavour that should transform all of the economies on the continent. It will open new frontiers in opportunities and position Africa as a force to be reckoned with in the global economy.
Liberalizing trade in goods is typically portrayed as the main aspect of this agreement. Trade in services tends to be a question of secondary importance in the eyes of observers who are not experts in the issue.
In truth, since trade in services does not face the same obstacles as trade in goods, it is often subject to different considerations; notably it depends to a great extent on regulatory issues. The digital economy, which mostly involves services, is probably the greatest source of opportunities for Africa and its young people.
The digital economy constitutes an instrument for accelerating and amplifying job creation possibilities for the young people of the continent. This essentially hinges on five factors: skills, markets, regulations, cost competitiveness and availability of infrastructure and support services.
In-demand skills are determined by international standards. The capacity to deliver training that meets these standards on the continent will enable young people to put their skills to good use in the African market and outside it. Emphasis must also be placed on innovation and business incubators, firstly to bring solutions to the specific issues of the continent and secondly to give young people a framework within which to express their ideas and test their capacities.
Integrating international markets is a delicate issue due to the regulatory aspect. Bold regulations must be implemented that favour the birth and emergence of African digital giants without infringing the rules of multilateralism. Effectively, the universal nature of the regulations is often linked to the political weight of the countries proposing or imposing them.
The current context of multilateralism, characterized by tensions on trade rules, must not lead Africa to impose market conditions that are incompatible with its ambition to make digital trade a main factor in its development. It is therefore urgent to work with African experts who are qualified to define the regulatory strategy for the continent, which must be compatible with the ambitions of the AfCFTA.
Concerning competitiveness, this will depend on the costs of financial services, logistics, energy, telecommunications, taxation and so on...