Dr. Nana Owusu-Afari, Chairman of Afariwaa Group of Companies, has called on the AfCFTA Secretariat to ensure the removal of artificial national boundaries to allow for the free flow of Goods and Services for intra-African trade.
He said Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) on the African continent had a lot of developmental and growth challenges and some of the governments did not understand the dynamics of the informal SMEs.
Nana Owusu-Afari made the call at the opening of a two-day SME Conference and Training Session in Accra on Wednesday on the theme: “Breaking Business Barriers for AfCFTA Acceleration.”
The Conference is to raise awareness of the AfCFTA strategy for private sector engagement, deepen the capacity of SMEs to understand how to leverage opportunities offered by the AfCFTA and prepare African SME leaders to expand their businesses through regional value chains.
The SME Conference was convened as a platform of the Regional Integration Issues Forum by the Centre for Regional Integration in Africa (CRIA) in partnership with the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF); and the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration to explore strategies and concrete actions to overcome trade barriers and increase African market access for SMEs.
About 150 participants took part in discussing various aspects of SME access to African markets through the AfCFTA framework, while day two will train 60 selected West African SMEs in the AfCFTA priority sectors of trade in goods and services.
He said in most African countries, SMEs were the backbone of their economies, contributing around 80 per cent of the labour force in most countries but were mostly marginalized with limited capacity to develop and grow.
The Chairman said most governments were now gradually bringing some policies to address these barriers, citing that Kenya’s Jua Kali system had helped the formal and informal sectors to relate very well and many other African governments were learning from Kenya’s experiment.
Nana Owusu-Afari said without these huge SMEs growing, they would become a great barrier and hindrance to intra-African trade.
He urged governments to train public and civil servants to help develop the private sector in Africa because in some countries some of the public servants and government appointees were competitors to the private sector.
“They have their own companies or are Agents of private companies and this becomes a barrier to the full development of SMEs,” he added.
Mr Silver Ojakol, AfCFTA Secretariat’s Chief of Staff, urged SMEs to take advantage of the instruments and protocols in the Agreement to develop and grow their businesses.
He said SMEs were critical for the development and growth of the African Continent and there was no AfCFTA without SMEs, and the sector needed the Agreement to make meaningful contributions to the development of the Continent.
Professor Lehlohonolo Tlou, Executive Director, CRIA, said the Centre contended that without well-informed and capacitated private sector actors, intra-African trade would remain at low levels.
She said, however, the AfCFTA offered opportunities for mobilisation of resources and stakeholders; capacity development; scaling-up of businesses; inclusive intra-African trade; job-creation; expanded national economies; a sustainable continental market and ecosystem that effectively met the needs of the African people.
She said the Conference would build the capacity of business leaders in West, East, and Southern Africa, enabling them to understand the AfCFTA and the requirements for gaining access to intra-African cross border trade.
Prof. Tlou said the first phase of the programme of action would begin in West Africa primarily because the West African Monetary Zone, the area where the Pan African Payment Settlement
System had been piloted to test and ensure financial ease of transacting business across African borders and markets.
Mr Ian Mashingaidze, the Interim Director of Programmes at ACBF, said even when Africans had made significant strides in fostering economic cooperation and integration among the countries, challenges such as trade barriers, inadequate infrastructure, and limited access to finance persist, were still impeding the seamless flow of goods, services, and investments across our borders.
“ACBF recognizes that without the necessary capacities, African countries and businesses may struggle to fully leverage the benefits of AfCFTA,” he said.
He said ACBF Strategic Plan 2023-2027 placed a strong focus on ‘Trade as an Engine of Economic Development’ as one of the key impact areas.