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The African continent must face many serious challenges in order to achieve successful regional integration and benefit from the advantages that result. This was the recommendation of a panel of expert economists speaking on Day 3 of the seventh African Economic Conference on Thursday in Kigali, Rwanda.
During a discussion organized in parallel with the pan-African gathering, participants were of the opinion that African countries needed to adopt a series of strategies which would lead to the implementation of sustainable development and regional integration.
Simon Mevel, expert economist at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), said, “Efforts at regional integration in Africa have been particularly hampered by the impact of transport costs on export options, which is not the same for every country.”
Mevel was speaking during a session on the theme of “Strengthening regional integration in Africa”.
In his view, this phenomenon is especially apparent in cases where a significant proportion of domestic products are still subject to intensive levels of trade, to the detriment of imported products.
“If there is a desire for regional integration based on the free movement of persons and goods, it follows that African governments must take all the measures necessary in terms of reducing customs duties,” Mevel said.
He believes that the vital step for African countries is ensuring that mechanisms are in place to enable them to face the many challenges.
A recent study conducted by UNECA shows that it takes on average 31.5 days to export a product from one sub-Saharan African country to another. Meanwhile, the import process takes, on average, 37.1 days for goods to reach their final destination.
Mevel told conference participants about regional integration for greater development in Africa. He referred to the efforts made by African governments to overcome these difficulties, for the sake of regional integration, through the creation of customs unions. However, he pointed out that barriers exist in the form of lengthy administrative procedures involving customs.
“This situation is one of the major causes of the delays that occur in the exchange of commercial products at the level of sub-regional trading blocs in Africa,” the UN expert observed.
In the eyes of the experts, given this state of affairs, it is not surprising that the level of intra-regional trade in Africa remains relatively low, with its minimal contribution representing a mere 11 per cent of all trade operations in 2010.
Paradoxically, the World Bank report “Doing Business 2012” shows that sub-Saharan Africa has achieved progress thanks to reforms implemented during previous years to facilitate intra-regional trade. Nevertheless, this part of the continent continues to lag behind in comparison with other regions.
According to the UN expert economist, “the only remaining difficulty is the implementation of regulatory and monitoring systems, which is the responsibility of state authorities.”