The challenge of regional integration

Intra Africa trade and regional integration is believed to be possible although the agenda will not be easily achieved due to existing constraints.

Taking part in a panel discussion this week during the opening of the Global Expo, Acting Director of Trade and Industry at the African Union Commission, Hussein Hassan Hussein labelled the SADC region‘Africa’s most economic bloc’.

Hussein feels Botswana stands to benefit much from this regional integration due to its central location.

The panel included the likes of former President, Festus Mogae and businessman, David Magang.

Mogae feels agreements signed in the past with the view of accelerating regional integration have not worked because of transport constraints, mainly in road and rail.

He said this is an area that the African Union (AU) should look into if it wants to speed up regional integration.

For his part, Magang noted that although intra African trade started many years ago there is little to show for it.

“The reason was for regions to trade within themselves first,” said the real estate businessman, pointing out that little integration has been achieved so far.

Magang believes one of the challenges restricting integration is the economic imbalance within Africa’s trade blocs.

“Because of this, we tend to be protective of our countries and our people. This prevents us from being able to see across borders,” he highlighted, noting that as a result, the continent finds itself trading mostly with European countries – a point that was re-iterated by the Head of Investment Banking at Standard Banking for Africa Regions, Anne Aliker when addressing local media this week.

Magang further highlighted the problem was compounded by lack of political will.

“At some stage, some of the regional members within SADC proposed amending immigration laws to allow free movement of people within the region,” he said, adding the proposal was met with reluctance.While economists have welcomed the establishment of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement and the potential it offers traders, they have cautioned it will not be an overnight fix.

Some have suggested a minimum timeline of 10 years before the agreement will bring any benefits to the 54 countries that have signed up.