By Abdoulie John
The Chief Executive Officer of Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry
(GCCI) has thumbed up the signing of the free trade agreement by 44 African countries at the just concluded African Union Extra-ordinary Summit held in Kigali, Rwanda.
“We welcome very much the continental free trade agreement,” Alieu Secka told this reporter.
The African continent is charting path towards greater economic integration as evidenced by the Kigali Summit’s endorsement of a groundbreaking agreement geared towards achieving a single market. The move that is expected to fast track economic growth through job creations is seen by many observers as one of the biggest trade agreements signed since the birth of the World Trade Organisation.
Secka deplored the fact that Africa has been very slow in moving towards a free trade deal, arguing that the European Union (EU) is greatly benefitting from the free trade area for nearly 14 years.
“Trade between European countries has increased in value by about 50 per cent while Africa continues to struggle around 12 per cent due to fragmentation. One can imagine the huge opportunity the Kigali agreement will provide to the business sector,” he said.
The GCCI boss is hopeful that African leaders will go beyond solemn declaration by committing themselves vigorously to the implementation of the necessary protocols.
“Once we have free trade, barriers are removed,” he said. “We still need the government to remove what we call ‘non-trade barriers’,” he added. These include removing bottlenecks, unnecessary licenses as well as defeating corruption and other vices that Africans experience in trade among our countries.
Asked whether the ‘sovereignty’ of our various states could be a major obstacle to implementing the continental free trade deal, Secka responded in the affirmative.
“One of the biggest challenges that we face is the border controls people continue to experience between the Gambia and Senegal. It’s ridiculous!” he deplored, adding that our countries should be ready to move towards a greater space that would help to boost trade and employment.
“In Europe, despite the challenges of terrorism, free movement of people has become a reality. In Africa, it has always been a dream that was never realized,” he added.
He said if Africans are able to trade their natural resources among their countries, they will ensure value addition and generate substantial amounts to their countries’ wealth.