Africans face downside threats and vulnerabilities from economic shocks, conflict, unemployment, natural disaster and health hazards, but trade can and should play a key role in reducing such challenges.
United Nations Commission for Africa executive secretary, Carlos Lopes, said this in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia this week.
He was speaking at the start of the second Africa Trade Forum, an annual event that the Africa Trade Policy Centre has organised, pooling together policy makers to discuss on boosting intra-Africa trade and the establishment of the continental free trade area (CFTA).
Lopes said African economies should also use trade to upscale the current appreciable growth rate of 5.2 percent per annum achieved on the continent since the turn of the century.
He said the potential for intra-regional trade is evident from regions that have moved up the value chain for a while.
â€œAfrica, however, is not only about vulnerabilities.Â We have untapped resources from demographics, natural resources and agriculture.Â Africaâ€™s youth population is its most valuable asset and holds great promise for the future,â€ said Lopes.Â
He said Africaâ€™s population is increasingly urban and the benefits of agglomeration including increased domestic demand will work in tandem with internal trade to boost the creation of regional value chains.Â
Lopes tipped African economies that they could tap the market potential of the much talked â€˜middle classâ€™ of about 326 million Africans.Â
â€œIn such a case, just as external actors are gearing up to exploit the demand emerging from this class of people, it would be essential that business entities within the continent also take advantage of this situation, particularly as barriers to intra-Africa trade are set to fall,â€ he said.Â
African Union deputy chairperson Erastus Mwencha said the onus is on the African governments to move with speed in adopting what policy makers will agree on and adopt the establishment of the CFTA by 2017.
He said the involvement of the private sector, small traders, informal sector and women in business was the step forward in making sure that all are involved in the process of establishing an CFTA and boosting intra-Africa trade.
The forum, which runs under the theme â€œBoosting Intra-African Trade and Establishing the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA), will be held from September 24 to 26.