Geneva, 1 October 2021 (ECA) – Senior experts and high-level policy makers expressed confidence that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) can and should be implemented so as to maximize the achievement of environmental objectives through adoption of relevant environment-friendly policies and enforcement of environmental standards.
At a virtual session convened on the sidelines of the WTO Public Forum on 1 October 2021, the experts considered how AfCFTA implementation strategies can support the development of green and blue economy value chains and deliberated on the actions required by African policymakers and businesses to fully harness the AfCFTA and further the environmental agenda.
“The AfCFTA provided the continent with an opportunity to tackle climate change by supporting a shift in production patterns away from a reliance on extractives and commodities,” Mr. Stephen Karingi, Director of the Regional Integration and Trade Division at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), said.
Mr. Karingi underlined that his Division is preparing a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to support how environmental considerations can be effectively incorporated into the implementation of the Agreement.
Mr. Karingi further noted that the ECA is assisting member states to develop their national AfCFTA implementation strategies with an environmental focus against the backdrop of the challenges of COVID-19 and climate change.
“In collaboration with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the African Centre for Economic Transformation (ACET), ECA is launching a joint research programme that aims to understand and explain how climate change-related risks could alter the comparative advantages of individual countries, the resulting trade patterns across the continent, and its implications for infrastructure development”, Mr. Karingi stated.
Mr Karingi added that the research is expected to generate insights into how the AU Green Recovery Action Plan (GRAP) can be better aligned with AfCFTA implementation so as to put Africa on a more sustainable and resilient path of economic recovery.
Mr. Maximiliano Mendez-Parra, senior researcher at ODI, also emphasized that the promise of the AfCFTA goes beyond increasing trade flows, and indeed beyond economic issues, contributing significantly to Africa’s efforts for a green transformation.
“The AfCFTA will not only be climate compatible but it will potentially contribute to the effort towards greenhouse gas emission reduction,” Mr. Mendez-Parra opined.
On his part, Mr. Hermogène Nsengimana, Secretary General of the African Organization for Standardization (ARSO), stated that full and proper implementation of the AfCFTA requires standardization in the social, economic, and environmental spheres.
Advocating for the adoption of the EcoMark certification system as a tool for the AfCFTA implementation, Mr. Nsengimana said that launching such a scheme promotes the goal of the AfCFTA to deepen economic integration through the free movement of goods and services.
" Eco labeling standards are set for goods and services which meet environmental, societal, economic and legal standards, hereby enhancing the profile of African products and their potential to access markets", he said.
Panelists noted that enforcement of standards largely relies on industry driven (bottom up) certification, which is a cumbersome and expensive procedure. They cautioned that if firms find it expensive and difficult to navigate, they will forgo the benefits of the free trade area, thus undermining the foundational goals of the AfCFTA.
Speaking of building back better after Covid-19, Ms. Usha Chandnee Dwarka-Canabady, Permanent Representative of Mauritius to the United Nations Office in Geneva, noted that over 600 million people in Africa lack access to electricity and over 900 million have no access to clean cooking fuel.
“At this rate, about $70 billion worth of investments per year is needed to meet the continent’s energy needs,” Ms. Dwarka-Canabady said.
“Leveraging of finances is an essential component of Africa’s transformation and in the context of AfCFTA implementation, supplying economies with affordable fuel is integral to supporting actions for building back better,” she added.
Finally, the panel deliberated on trade-related impacts of climate change and how trade provides the goods and services that can drive mitigation efforts, the challenges such efforts entail for the continent, but also the opportunities for promoting environment-friendly goods and services liberalization, harmonizing and strengthening environmental standards.
The virtual session, under the theme “Building resilient and sustainable regional and global value chains through the AfCFTA”, held on the sidelines of the WTO Public Forum which was held from 28 September to 01 October, was hosted by the ECA, ODI, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Forum on Trade, Environment and the SDGs (TESS).