Africa can no longer have a situation where it exports raw materials, only to import billions of dollars of finished goods made from those materials abroad because it fails to manufacture and trade among its own 54 countries, President Cyril Ramaphosa has said.
The president said this when he officially opened the Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF) in Indian Ocean port city of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal on Monday, where he also welcomed 15 African leaders to the fair.
“We can no longer have a situation where the resources of Africa provided employment and add value in other economies, while so many of our people live in poverty and conditions of underdevelopment,” Ramaphosa said.
He added: “By promoting trade among African countries, through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), we are strengthening the continent’s industrial base and ensuring that we produce goods for ourselves and each other.”
He said the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the frailty of African economies and, more importantly, it has sent a powerful message to the continent about the dangers of over-reliance on external sources to meet its growing demand for food, medicines and other essential supplies.
“It clearly demonstrated that Africa needs to produce its own food and medicines to strengthen continental supply chains, and to invest in infrastructure and capacitate African institutions,” he added.
To illustrate the extent of the challenge, the UN Economic Commission for Africa estimates that Africa imported about 94% of its pharmaceutical and medicinal needs from outside the continent at an annual cost of US $16 billion.
The newly-formed African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has the potential to accelerate economic growth across the continent and create opportunities for entrepreneurs, small and medium enterprises, as well as large corporations to flourish, Ramaphosa said.
“It is our expectation that this Intra-African Trade Fair will further cement its position as Africa’s premier trade platform, where African manufacturers can promote and sell more ‘Made in Africa’ goods to one another.
“This is critical if we are to change the distorted trade relationship that exists between African countries and the rest of the world,” Ramaphosa said.
The week-long event hosted by the South African government, in conjunction with African Export-Import Bank, provides a platform for linking international buyers, sellers and investors, as well as allowing participants and visitors to profile and share market information and investment opportunities in support of intra-African trade and the economic integration of the continent.