The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) provides a critical opportunity for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), including youth-led enterprises engaged in cross-border trade, to participate in the development of regional value chains, more easily meet the standards of continental markets, and supply inputs to larger companies in their regions, with targeted support.

This was said by the Economic Commission for Africa’s (ECA) Technology, Climate Change and Natural Resources Director, Jean-Paul Adam, during a virtual Youth Alliance for Leadership and Development in Africa Summit organised in partnership with the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the AfCFTA Secretariat.

Mr Adam said in Africa 60 percent of men and 75 percent of women were informally employed, including educated youth.

“Moving beyond this informality implies doing things differently. It is about empowering African citizens, and as part of this direction, ECA is supporting the roll out of digital identity projects across our continent.  By creating a common framework for digital identity, we improve inclusion in terms of access to social protection and also in terms of financial inclusion,” he said.

Digital identities are one of the building blocks to allow digital trade to thrive.  They also create new opportunities for the creation of small businesses and for supporting SMEs at various points in the development.  They also allow for better support to be targeted to first time businesses and start-ups, he added.

“We must further leverage Africa’s digital infrastructure to maximise these opportunities through the AfCFTA.  While the gap is substantial, past experiences in upscaling mobile phone penetration teaches us that progress can be achieved rapidly if there is a focus on the right regulatory environment, coupled with empowerment of the private sector to invest,” Mr Adam told the young African leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators attending the summit.

He said the AfCFTA promise would be delivered by the continent’s success to mobilise the power of its young people.

E-commerce emerged during the COVID-19 lockdowns as a trade facilitator and multiplier.

The ECA is proud to have played a key role in sowing the seeds for the successful launch and use of the African Medical Supplies Platform that has connected the procurement of medical needs with production and supply across the continent and beyond, said Mr Adam.

Based on this experience the ECA is continuing to work with partners, such as Afreximbank, to improve the frameworks for African entrepreneurs to leverage the opportunities of e-commerce across our continent.

“New innovative solutions providing credit for e-commerce, including fintech solutions, can address these challenges of access to finance. For instance, coaching and crowdfunding have been observed to fund e-commerce during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the ECA Director said.

“The reality of trade on our continent today, is that divergent rules across the 107 land borders among our 54 countries, create a complex mesh of obstacles for budding entrepreneurs.  The multiplicity of regulatory standards, competition, investment intellectual property rights and services complicate our ability to be efficient and competitive.”

The AfCFTA consolidates a market of 1.3 billion people into a market value of 2.3 trillion USD.

The Agreement’s Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons can address skill-shortages and allow individuals to live and work where their talents are best rewarded, he said.

Ms Aissatou Diallo, Regional Portifolio Manager at ITC, said “it’s time for youth to use our brand to attain revenue for a better standard of living through our projects than wait for hand-given jobs.”

Speaking on behalf of Wamkele Mene, the Secretary General of the AfCFTA, Mr Kitcher said, “it is time to assist youth in cross border trade. The AfCFTA will assist youth by creating a tariff free continent.”

He encouraged the youth from all the regions of Africa to get involved in the AfCFTA revolution.

Ms Anna Ekeledo, Executive Director at AfriLabs, stressed that broadband connectivity should be seen as an essential service on the continent.

“It should be seen as a utility and that when approaching digital infrastructure investments, policies ought to tackle the grassroots of the rising challenges to ensure inclusive access,” she said.

The virtual Summit was held under the theme; “Beyond COVID-19 - Leveraging the AfCFTA to spur Africa’s growth.”

Learn More: UNECA

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