By Bedson Nyoni

The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade of the Kingdom of Eswatini, in collaboration with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) held a National Consultative Forum on 3 November in Mbabane, ESwatini, to develop the Eswatini African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Implementation Strategy and Action Plan

The two-day forum, supported by the Global Affairs Canada (GAC), sought the contributions of various stakeholders in the development of the country AfCFTA Implementation Strategy and Action Plan focusing on trade in goods and services. The forum was attended by government representatives, public and private sector representatives, the media as well as women and youth organisations.

Officiating at the meeting, Ms Cebile Nhlabatsi, Acting Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Commerce Industry and Trade, who represented the Principal Secretary, Mr. Siboniso Nkambule emphasised Eswatini’s commitment to implementing the AfCFTA Agreement to take full advantage of the opportunities provided for under both trade in goods and trade in services.

“It is for this reason that we are gathered here today to come up with ideas, strategies and plans on how the AfCFTA Agreement can be of benefit to emaSwati.”

The Principal Secretary emphasized that “To achieve this, it is clear that going forward, Africa cannot be the raw material producing and exporting economy of the past. The continent has to be an economy based on value-addition and industrial activities, as well as trade with itself.”

He underscored the role of the private sector which was critical for changing the landscape of the African Continent.

“There is therefore a need for the private sector to collaborate with the Government and prioritise private public partnerships in order for us to increase our proactive capacity”, he said.

In his opening remarks, Mr. George Wachira, United Nations Resident Coordinator in the Kingdom of Eswatini, said “the AfCFTA Agreement was not self-executing and required Eswatini to deploy deliberate strategies to ensure the private sector, was primed to exploit a larger market and product opportunities offered by the AfCFTA through reduced tariff and non-tariff barriers.

He told the participants that the AfCFTA will create the biggest free trade area in the world with a market of more than 1.29 billion people and a combined GDP of more than US$3 trillion.

“The AfCFTA has immense opportunities for increasing intra-regional trade, enhancing production, promoting economies of scale, creating jobs, raising incomes and improving the standard of living of the African people,” said Mr. Wachira.

The Resident Coordinator further added that the effective exploitation of the AfCFTA will require consensus among all stakeholders. It was therefore imperative to establish a well-resourced National AfCFTA Committee. The National AfCFTA Committee was part of the framework to entrench and facilitate the required consultative processes in the implementation of the agreement. The committee should have representatives from the major stakeholders including women and the youth, he advised.

Mr. Million Habte, AfCFTA Secretariat representative, highlighted the importance of infrastructure development and industrialization in the implementation of the agreement.

“The Agreement is important for the creation of gainful jobs especially for the youth. Eswatini has to develop a strategy to ensure access to the African market hence this process that started today”, Mr. Habte said.

Mr. Batanai Chikwene, UNECA Programme Management Officer, outlined the process of developing the National AfCFTA Implementation Strategy for Eswatini and the next steps after the initial National AfCFTA Forum. He underscored the importance of leveraging the AfCFTA in industrializing Eswatini and in creating in creating decent and gainful jobs particularly for the youth.

The process of developing the Eswatini AfCFTA Strategy, will be followed by country-wide consultations with different stakeholders including the private sector, academia, women, and youth groups. Thereafter the strategy will be drafted and reviewed by Cabinet and Parliamentarians before it is validated. The strategy is expected to be launched by the first quarter of 2023.