The deputy chairperson of the African Union Commission says the continental body seeks to encourage intra-Africa trade among its members to enhance Africa’s worldwide competitiveness.
Erastus Mwencha said strong trade between AU members is vital to creating jobs and eradicating poverty.
“With trade we are able to look at issues of infrastructure, we are able to look at issues of efficiency in terms of movement of transport within the continent, and we are also able to measure how we are able to export. We can then add value,” said Mwencha.
“Trade is a tool that we can use to tackle poverty and unemployment, because if we are going to involve value addition, it means more jobs it means more employment [and] it means tackling poverty," he said. "Trade is also an entry of technology because it will mean we have more investment and investments coming to Africa, means technology.”
Some analysts say trade among AU members accounts for about 12 percent of all African trade. In comparison, over 40 percent of all trade on other continents come from buying and selling goods between neighbors in the same region.
Mwencha called for immediate action on intra-Africa trade since Africa, he said, has the lowest levels of trade of any world region.
His comments come as African heads of state and government hold a two-day summit in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.
The biannual summit officially ends Monday. The leaders are scheduled to consider the report of the High Level Committee of Heads of State and Government Chairs of the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) on Boosting Intra-African Trade, among others.
But critics say decisions often taken by African leaders are poorly implemented.
However, Mwencha said the African Union Commission aims to realize its objective of a strong intra-Africa trade.
"We have set our target first of all to create a continental free trade area by 2017, but we are not oblivious to the challenges that we have gone through in the past… there is reason to be optimistic because we now have regional economic communities, which are building themselves into a free trade customs union,” said Mwencha.
He said he’d like to Africa’s regional blocs converge.
He said this is already happening. The Southern African Development Community and the East African Community are forming a tripartite free-trade area, which he said sharply improves trade relations of about 26 countries in both groupings.
“We are encouraging Central Africa, we are encouraging West Africa, North Africa to do similar,” he said.
Mwencha he said Africa should take advantage of the continent’s huge combined markets of the 54 member states.