ECA Calls for Ambition in the AfCFTA at Annual Bank of Namibia Symposium
05 November 2020
The Bank of Namibia held its 21st Annual Symposium on 5 November under the theme of “Positioning Namibia to reap the benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Area.” Representing the United Nations System was the UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Ms. Vera Songwe, who spoke on “How to position Namibia to reap the benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Area - Experience and lessons from other countries.”
Citing ECA analysis that indicates that Namibia will benefit positively from the AfCFTA, Ms. Songwe outlined opportunities for reaping benefits from the Agreement and underscored that being in SADC, the country has the advantage of being part of a trading bloc that Africa looks to for best practices. Furthermore, with SADC playing the most active trading role on the Continent, the AfCFTA offers opportunities to level the playing field across the Regional Economic Communities (RECs), including AMU/UMA in the north, EAC in the east, ECCAS in central Africa, ECOWAS in the west, and SADC in the south, in addition to others, such as CEN-SAD, COMESA, and IGAD.
While Namibia is poised to export textiles, food and agro-industry sectors, among others, Ms. Songwe urged for more ambition stressing the need to move to higher-value, complex sectors and services where the country can seek comparative advantage.
She noted that Namibia’s logistics sector is a potential area for entry, providing this service to the entire Continent. The country, she stressed, could leverage technology and undertake work to assess its national competitiveness strategy and strengthen its competitive advantage within the African regional value chain and supply chain. Noting that South Africa spends the most on R&D in Africa, Namibia could benefit from such a regional neighbor.
Furthermore, while Namibia must continue to reap benefits from existing sectors, true benefits of the AfCFTA will come from turning to new job creating sectors, including e-commerce and contributing to trade related services such as phytosanitary sanitary services for the sub region and beyond, she added.
She also hailed the country for standing out as a leader in sanitary standards during the COVID-19 pandemic and said that as Africa opens up for trade, Namibia can provide services to the Continent in the area of standards-setting for export to the rest of the world.
The 21st Symposium also elaborated on potential unintended consequences of trade. However, there was acknowledgement on the merits, particularly for a small and open economy such as Namibia’s, but which is highly integrated in SADC and the rest of the World, through its bilateral trade partners including China and the EU.
She called upon Namibia to remain a champion of the AfCFTA, advocating for the ratification of the Agreement, while keeping an eye on the service sectors that the country can develop, in the context of industrialization on the Continent. The country would need to invest in human capital including in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), inclusive of marginalized populations including women and youth.
On his part, Mr. Sen Pang, the UN Resident Coordinator in his introduction of the ECA Executive Secretary emphasized that
“this is an issue of high relevance to the United Nations system in Namibia, and UN support to the Government of the Republic of Namibia.”