ONYEBUCHI MEMEH It’s time for SA to replot free-trade and investment trajectory
For the African agreement to be completely effective negotiations on several issues must still be concluded
SA's economy has become a fast-changing macroenvironment, still reeling from the economic shock of the pandemic and extensive international travel restrictions. The exponential global movements towards zero carbon and coal phase-out pose a significant challenge to the country's well-documented power-generation issues.
However, positive initiatives such as moving up value chains, reducing trade barriers and implementing policy reforms to facilitate incoming foreign direct investment, may help SA take charge of its future and drive the evolution of the country's energy policy in light of global decarbonisation.
The African Continental Free-Trade Area (AfCFTA) presents the most significant opportunity for Africa, and SA, to realise its vision of a unified, connected and thriving continent. It will contribute to the resolution of issues affecting trade growth, industrialisation and infrastructure development — while also allowing businesses to expand their markets by exporting goods and services across the continent.
AfCFTA aims to create the world's largest free-trade area, linking 54 African countries with a population of more than 1.3-billion people. The agreement provides the foundation for promoting intra-African trade by encouraging production and speeding up the expansion of industrial capacity and competitiveness. It provides Africa with the opportunity to aggressively reintegrate itself into the global supply chain, reducing its excessive trade dependency on non-African partners and strengthening its position to withstand future global shocks.
Signed on March 21 2018, the agreement went into effect on May 30 2019, with only about 41 of the 54 nations that signed the agreement having formally adopted it. After a six-month delay due to the Covid-19 crisis, free trade finally began on January 1 2021, though only nations that have ratified the agreement can trade with one another. For the agreement to be completely effective negotiations on several issues must still be concluded.
First-phase discussions on trade in goods and services, as well as the settlement of disputes, are well under way, though negotiations in many sectors are still ongoing. Some discussions on the second phase — about intellectual property rights, investment & competition policy — have already begun, and, after the second phase is complete the third phase, e-commerce, discussions are likely to commence.
Early evaluation is good, but the pace and content could benefit from improvement. If it hasn't previously been discussed, there may be merit in negotiating the second and third phases concurrently, and prioritising third-phase discussions as digitalisation is becoming a fundamental driver of global trade growth.
Several major factors have been seen to influence global trade, such as the adoption of sustainable and fair trading practices by a greater number of people, which contributes to sustainable development, improving the inclusivity of trade to increase participation, diversifying risk by investing in a variety of diverse sectors that will react differently to the same incidents, mitigating data and record losses through digitisation, and an accelerated shift towards high-growth emerging markets. For SA to change the investment and trade narrative it must capitalise on a number of these factors.
SA must increase the adoption of sustainable and fair-trade practices. It should consider a boost in manufacturing, particularly in the car sector, to rapidly transition to renewable energy sources to comply with carbon emission standards and electric vehicle requirements in export destinations. Additionally, energy companies such as Eskom must increase their reliance on renewable energy sources to stabilise and guarantee a sustainable supply.
SA is uniquely positioned to advance the continent's digital agenda and promote the adoption of digital trade practices. SA should encourage the adoption of regulations (for example, on digital documents) aimed at expediting these processes and promoting commerce and economic advancement through the use of best practices.
In addition, SA should encourage the adoption of regulations (for example on digital documents) aimed at expediting these processes and promoting commerce and economic advancement through the use of best practices.
A rapid shift to emerging markets with significant growth potential is necessary, as is the adoption of legislative changes in SA to enhance growth and attract new FDI.
A rapid, well-managed transition to renewable energy is critical for SA, as is a timely reaction to current global developments, such as those in the energy industry. While conversations have begun, they must accelerate.
The car industry in particular must urgently migrate to electric vehicle technology to maintain sales in export markets such as the UK and EU, which have implemented legislation governing the shift from internal combustion engines to hybrids to full electric vehicle technologies. Additionally, Eskom must transition to renewable energy.
Different regions have different approaches to trade with one another, and particularly with SA. The shift will be from regional economic blocs to widespread acceptance of the AfCFTA. The Pan African Payment & Settlement System (PAPSS) is expected to support the AfCFTA, better positioning SA to expand exports to the rest of the continent.
PAPSS will dramatically reduce foreign currency liquidity requirements, and the project's success will be determined by how successfully Africa's central banks and monetary authorities collaborate to progress this initiative.
While much of the foundation has been laid, there is still some distance to go. SA must execute the required legal modifications and facilitate a swift migration to renewable energy to transform the SA narrative on trade and investment.
• Memeh is head of trade for SA & Southern Africa for Standard Chartered Bank.
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