By Olufemi Fagun
Free trade refers to an agreement between two or more nations to reduce barriers to imports and exports among them. Under a free trade agreement, goods and services can be bought and sold across international borders with little or no government tariffs, quotas, subsidies, or prohibitions to inhibit their exchange.
Free Trade is good for all; it is not a zero sum game because it improves the general wellbeing of those involved in it and can engender sustainable development and shared prosperity for all. Free trade is achieved when everyone follows the rules, and not try to take advantage of the rules. Free and Fair trade is what we need in Africa, we want to enjoy the full benefit of International trade, Africans don’t just want to be producers of raw materials and unfinished goods, we want to be able to add value to our raw materials and enjoy the value chain that the production process can generates. There must be an end to Economic alienation from the Production process as predominant in the exploitative capitalist framework.
Africans cannot be alienated from their products anymore; I saw a documentary about a cocoa farmer in Ivory Coast being asked if he can identify a Chocolate bar that was shown to him by Richard Quest, a CNN Correspondent, and when asked, the cocoa farmer replied that he doesn’t know what a chocolate bar looks like, he was then told that it’s his cocoa that has been processed to become the chocolate bar. The farmer was surprised and said that was the first time he saw a chocolate bar in his life.
The foregoing represents a true picture of unfair trade practices that has gone on for years, where Africans are alienated from their products, Cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria do not determine the price of Cocoa and chocolate in the International markets, even when these three countries are the largest producers of Cocoa in the world. This is because those that makes decisions on prices of International commodities are far away in the Western hemisphere. If Africa is the largest producers of Cocoa, why is Africa not the center of Chocolate Manufacturing in the world; this is one of the root causes of unfair trade practices we are talking about. The price of Cocoa goes down but the price of Chocolate never goes down.
As we look towards the implementation of the AFCTA, we must look inward to start an organic, home-grown solution to industrialization in Africa through education, research and development. We believe it is time for Africa to innovate and industrialize, and our global development partners must key into this agenda to industrialize Africa. Africa cannot be dumping ground for all sort of things you can imagine, we must be centers of manufacturing and commerce. Africa must move away from being just a commodity market to a more sophisticated production system.
As the African Free Trade Area Agreement is kickstarted, Africans must be encouraged to travel across Africa without any roadblocks; we should carry out a visa free regime for Africans regardless of your passport and nationality. With the activation of the Africa Free Trade Agreement in 2021, I believe the next steps would be to guarantee the free movement of people across Africa. We must remove every impediment that prevents us from doing so. Trade can only be conducted effectively, when people can move freely across the continent. If the Europeans can do it, I believe we can, and it’s more imperative for us because of the low level of intra-regional trade among African countries.
Friends of Africa must also come to terms with the need to stop giving foreign aids to Africa, what Africa need is Fair Trade and Open Markets. What Africa needs is partnership that works for all, we must remove all impediments that make it difficult for Africa to trade with the rest of the world, starting with the reform of the World Trade Organization. We hope with this new wind blowing across Africa; we have set the ball rolling to develop and empower our people through Trade. What greater bond can we use to push our common destiny further than trade. Indeed better days are ahead for the great continent of Africa.
I call on all African countries to ensure the African Continental Free Trade Area work for all, as we must practice what we preach at home. We must ensure it is a resounding success for the African People by increasing the intra-regional trade among ourselves. I also call on other African Countries still dragging their foot to come on board, and join the moving train, because Trade is a force for good.
Olufemi Fagun is a Public Affairs Analyst.