Some cross-border traders have expressed fears on their potential to fully benefit from the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) trade tariffs.
The broad objective of the AfCFTA is to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of businesspersons and investments, paving the way for accelerating the establishment of the Continental Customs Union.
The doubt from cross- traders comes amid concerns that despite having waivers on some trade tariffs in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), bureaucracies have been frustrating traders.
The comments follow last week’s Comesa Federation of Women in Business (Comfwb) regional conference in Lilongwe, which attracted regional cross-border trade women exhibitors.
Zambia-based Kakanga Food Suppliers director Grace Njapau-Efrati expressed concern that even to trade with neighbouring Malawi is difficult as they are subjected to unnecessary checks on products.
She said: “Malawi is a member of Comesa and there is need to relax some of the regulations and restrictions. When you arrive at the Malawi border, they don’t recognise that we are all Comesa member States.”
Njapau-Efrati hoped that member States will adhere to protocols signed in the AfCFTA to ensure trade runs smoothly as per expectations.
Comoros Island-based El Houda processing company manager Nourou Houssam shared the same fear, saying on paper, the AfCFTA looks lucrative but practically, there could be challenges.
She called for networking between traders of various countries if traders are to benefit from the bigger market that is AfCFTA.
“We are gearing up for the AfCFTA market, but the only challenge is the quality and standard issue and some necessary raw materials in Africa which are needed to suffice product market needs,” she said.
Houssam mentioned Covid-19 as another drawback, which may affect regional markets success as restrictions remain in force.
Nyasa Mining Cooperative director of procurement Sabina Patel said Malawi has potential to reap benefits from AfCFTA only if small-scale businesses are supported to address capacity gaps.
On his part, Minister of Trade Sosten Gwengwe said his ministry is working on improving the business environment through policy, legal and regulatory frameworks to ensure Malawi becomes an attractive business environment.