The African Continental Free Trade Area has the potential to fundamentally transform economies on the continent, said President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday at the African Development Bank’s Africa Investment Forum in Johannesburg.
“This is a free trade area that has never been seen in the world. It’s going to be the largest integrated market on the African continent, which is a clear demonstration that indeed Africa is not only on the rise but Africa is on the move,” said Ramaphosa.
The free trade agreement was signed in March, with 44 countries having ratified it. Forty-four countries have signed the deal, including economic powerhouses South Africa, Egypt and Kenya, but Nigeria remains hesitant, fearing the dumping of goods in the country. “The fortunes of any country will be even more closely dependent on the fortunes of all countries,” said Ramaphosa, saying the the agreement would include a combined GDP of $3.2-trillion covering 1.2-billion people. “To extract the real value of a continental free trade area, we need to have the means to produce the goods that we want to trade. We need factories, affordable energy, reliable water supplies, universal broadband and integrated supply chains. “We also need the roads, railway lines, harbours and air networks that are essential to move these goods,” Ramaphosa continued. In an effort to stimulate South Africa’s economy, the President has been on a charm offensive to woo local and international investors and on Thursday he reiterated the role of the private sector in growing the economy and providing jobs. “African governments cannot do this without business. The private sector and private markets are key players in the African investment landscape, supported by the lending capacity of financial institutions, both on the continent and beyond,” he said. Ramaphosa has discouraged rhetoric referring to private business as “white minority capital” and recently hailed business leaders as heroes, drawing criticism from trade union federation the SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu).
“What is also admirable is many countries have stopped looking at the private sector as the enemy. They’ve stopped looking at business people as the enemy,” said Ramaphosa, sitting on a panel with Africa’s richest person, Nigerian Aliko Dangote, in the news recently for his efforts to buy football club Arsenal.
“They’re looking and working with the private sector in co-operation, in collaboration, and they’re doing so also ridding their own countries of acts of corruption ensuring that everything is done in line with proper governance processes,” Ramaphosa said.
“Indeed this is a market place to do deals and market transactions. Africa is indeed a continent on the move. It is a continent on the rise,” the President added, highlighting the continent’s economic potential.
Leaders addressing the three-day forum on Thursday emphasised the need to sign investment deals at the conference. “The mood prevailing here is that we want to emerge from Johannesburg with concrete results, real transactions and real deals that are signed and sealed because Africa is tired of forums that are just talk shops and nothing comes out of that,” said Gauteng Premier David Makhura.
Ramaphosa said $28-billion in deals were expected to be signed at the event.
“May the deals be concluded. May we all be part of the deals that are going to be made here,” he said as he finished his speech. African Development Bank President Dr Akinwumi Adesina urged leaders to challenge the global narrative of the continent. “Africa is not going to be an aid-driven continent. Africa is going to be an investment-driven continent,” he said.
He said the continent faces a yearly infrastructure-funding gap of between $68-billion and $108-billion, which is a challenge, but provides many opportunities for investors. DM