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The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) marks a momentous milestone for Africa but preliminary findings of the upcoming 2019 African Regional Integration Index indicate that regional integration in Africa remains low. The Index, known as ARII, was set up to monitor and evaluate the status of economic integration among African countries and provides a basis for member states to track their progress.

More work ahead of Africa to achieve growth

According to the report, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is the most integrated region in terms of trade, with South Africa as the most integrated country on the continent. In the five areas that were analysed (trade integration, regional infrastructure, productive integration, free movement of people and macroeconomic integration) South Africa topped the rankings. South Sudan was found to be the least integrated country, mainly because of its modest performance in regional infrastructure and financial integration.

Integration in services contributed more than 53% of the continent’s GDP, but ratification of the protocol on the free movement of people has been slow, despite the 2016 launch of the Common Electronic Biometric African Passport and the AU Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, the report found.

Leila Mokadem, Country Manager and Resident Representative in Morocco for the African Development Bank (AfDB) says that despite the “tremendous” political support for the AfCTFA, there are still major challenges ahead in terms of implementation and pushing the agenda forward to meet the goal of increasing intra-African trade to 25% by 2023 from between 15% and 18% currently. She cites weak productive capacity in Africa, high production costs, large infrastructure deficits and other challenges that are affecting Africa’s competitiveness.

This opinion is backed by the 2019 Economic Report on Africa, which states that Africa must digitise its economies, broaden its tax base, prevent further deterioration of fiscal and debt positions, and aim for double-digit growth to achieve the UN 2030 global goals (SDGs), and the AU Agenda 2063. While economic growth in Africa remained moderate at 3.2% in 2018, Africa needs to do more, and work towards achieving a fine balance between raising revenue and incentivising investments, in order to boost growth, the report said.

A publication of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the Economic Report on Africa analyses challenges and opportunities across the continent. The findings reveal upward growth in many regions. East Africa remains the fastest growing, at 6.1% in 2017 and 6.2% in 2018, while in West Africa, the economy expanded by 3.2% in 2018, up from 2.4% in 2017. Central, North and Southern Africa’s economies grew at a slower pace in 2018 compared to 2017.

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