African free trade zone can promote sustainable growth. Head of the United Nations

The rapid growth that many African countries experienced before COVID-19 was lost to the pandemic, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday, underscoring the need to step up efforts towards a single trade market on the continent.

Mr Guterres was speaking on the final day of the annual Africa Dialogue series in New York, where this year’s focus has been on speeding up the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which is set to be the largest in the world.

Use the potential
He said the pandemic brought high food and energy prices, exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, exacerbating poverty, inequality and food insecurity.

Governments have also faced rising interest rates, increasing the potential for debt, while climate change has created deadly floods and droughts, contributing to the risk of famine.

“Guided by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063, we must step up our efforts and harness the full potential of trade and industrialization to foster sustainable, inclusive growth,” the UN chief told participants.

Millions could escape poverty
He said the AfCFTA should be the engine of that growth.

“Its full implementation could yield up to 9 percent revenue by 2035, according to recent estimates. This will lift up to 50 million people out of extreme poverty and reduce income inequality,” he added.

The Secretary-General stressed that realizing the promise of the AfCFTA requires action in four critical areas, starting with promoting access to financial resources and investment.

“We need a fundamental reform of the global financial system so that Africa is represented at the highest level,” he said.

Barriers that hold back intra-African trade and manufacturing capacity must also be removed, including by eliminating tariffs, building “Made in Africa” ​​supply chains, and harmonizing investment-enabling regulations.

Lever technology
His third point focused on energy and digital infrastructure, which are vital for African countries to develop their manufacturing capacity and tap the full potential of innovation and entrepreneurship.

“We need to empower Africa’s industrialization and leverage technology to leapfrog aging infrastructure and head straight for the fourth industrial revolution,” Mr Guterres said.

The continent is also blessed with resources that could make it a leader in clean energy, he added, and the sector could create more than six million jobs by mid-century. However, Africa has received only two percent of global investment in renewable energy in the past decade.

Invest in people
His final point highlighted investment in “human capital”, where Africa’s vibrant, young and innovative population represents both a dynamic workforce and a huge market.

“Creating decent jobs, especially for women, and promoting education, training and lifelong learning is the best way to ensure the full contribution of Africans to the continent’s digital revolution and sustainable growth,” she said.

Annual dialogue
The African Dialogue Series brings together policy and decision makers, experts, academics, civil society representatives, youth and other stakeholders to explore the challenges and opportunities affecting the continent.

It is organized by the Office of the UN Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA) and partners.

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