It is true that much of this is pie-in-the-sky rhetoric that was initiated by the likes of the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and has about as much chance of being implemented as Qatar has of winning the Soccer World Cup in 2022.
But the regional integration part of the plan is not only eminently doable but highly desirable from the standpoint of the continent’s economic growth. Africa needs to trade more, and with the global economy stuttering and mineral resource exports to China starting to slow, it makes sense for the AU to do everything in its power to dismantle the barriers to intra-African trade.
Yet apart from fine-sounding words, there is little evidence of progress in the formation of free trade areas. Further, it would facilitate the construction of transport infrastructure, ease border crossings and reduce the administrative burden and transaction costs of intra-African trade.
Instead, African nations appear set on putting obstacles in the way of free trade, much to the bewilderment of the rest of the world. Representatives of African nations at the World Trade Organisation tried recently to block the implementation of the body’s trade facilitation agreement, which aims to accelerate the movement of goods across borders. The African nations have argued that the pact be suspended until all other elements of the stalled Doha development agenda can be implemented.
It is unclear why African nations would seek to stymie an international agreement that not only meshes with their own integration plan but is clearly in their economic interests, other than to attempt to achieve some bigger goal, whatever that may be. In the meantime, however, the continent’s intransigence is imperilling developments such as the renewal of the US African Growth and Opportunity Act, which gives African countries duty-free access to the US market and expires next year. This is not the time for the continent to be cutting off its nose to spite its face.]]>