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Africa’s
att?mpt to build a contin?nt-wid? fr?? trad? ar?a may ?nd up in failur? lik? so
many oth?r pr?viously start?d r?gional d?v?lopm?ntal sch?m?s, unl?ss and until l?ad?rs
do things diff?r?ntly.

African
l?ad?rs r?v?al?d actual plans to cr?at? an African-wid? fr?? trad? ar?a in Jun?
2011, wh?n th?y announc?d that 26 African nations will join th? thr?? ?xisting,
but oft?n ov?rlapping r?gional trad? blocks. Th?ir ambition is to cr?at? an
Africa-wid? ?conomic and mon?tary ar?a by 2025.

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Th?r?
ar? obvious advantag?s of an African fr?? trad? ar?a. Pooling th?ir mark?ts may
h?lp African ?conomi?s b?tt?r tak? advantag? of n?w growth opportuniti?s off?r?d
by th? ris? of pow?rful n?w ?m?rging pow?rs. It may also h?lp African ?conomi?s
ov?rcom? n?w chall?ng?s caus?d by th? d?clin? of som? of th? old industrial pow?rs
in th? aft?rmath of th? global financial crisis.

Du?
to th? d?bt cris?s in th? US and th? ?U it is vital for African countri?s to
int?grat? clos?r and quick?r, b?caus? b?tt?r intra-r?gional trad? can provid? a
d?f?nsiv? buff?r from global shocks. Furth?r, it may provid? a prot?ctiv? wall
to African countri?s to b?n?fit th?ir ?conomi?s from singl?-commodity dominat?d
on?s and nurtur? n?w manufacturing and s?rvic?s industri?s.

Many
African ?conomi?s ar? so tiny th?y ar? unviabl? on th?ir own. Pooling African ?conomi?s
will bring larg?r ?conomi?s of scal? and mark?ts which has th? pot?ntial of ?xpanding
production and d?mand. Curr?ntly African countri?s trad? mor? with th? r?st of
th? world, mostly form?r colonial pow?rs, than with ?ach oth?r.

 

Contradiction
b?tw??n r?gional arrang?m?nts and r?gional trad?

African stat?s hav? dr?am?d about
trading mor? with ?ach oth?r across th?ir bord?rs sinc? ind?p?nd?nc?, particularly
in ord?r to r?duc? th?ir d?p?nd?nc? on form?r colonial pow?rs. This ?mancipatory
spirit has l?d to th? formation of num?rous R?Cs, which op?rat? at th?
sub-contin?ntal l?v?l and ar? int?nd?d to form th? ‘building blocks’ of th? ov?rall
int?gration ?ffort. In r?ality th?y look mor? lik? a ‘spagh?tti bowl’. A common
th?m? h?r? is rivalry, wast?d r?sourc?s, and lack of coh?sion in trad? polici?s,
sinc? African stat?s pr?f?r cr?ating brand n?w organisations rath?r than r?placing
th? on?s th?y alr?ady hav?.

For ?xampl?, in w?st Africa,
francophon? stat?s cr?at?d UD?AO (1966), a pr?f?r?ntial trad? ar?a with no
common ?xt?rnal tariff. This ?v?ntually ?volv?d into C?AO (1972) and th?n into
U?MOA (1994), th? latt?r of which is a mon?tary union using th? CFA franc.
Unlik? its pr?d?c?ssors, U?MOA has a common ?xt?rnal tariff. M?anwhil?, ?COWAS
(1975) compris?s both anglophon? and francophon? w?st African stat?s. It aims
for a full ?conomic community with an ?v?ntual singl? curr?ncy and to b? th?
only fram?work in th? sub-r?gion for intra-r?gional trad?. This has l?d to much
conflict sinc? ?COWAS has no m?chanisms to ?nsur? its polici?s hav? primacy ov?r
thos? of U?MOA. Finally, th?r? is th? Mano Riv?r Union (1973), consisting of
Guin?a, Lib?ria, and Si?rra L?on?. Whil? not an officially r?cognis?d R?C, its ?xist?nc?
non?th?l?ss l?ads to furth?r fragm?ntation and duplication of ?fforts. In 2000,
w?st Africa also saw th? formal launching of WAMZ, th? W?st African Mon?tary
Zon?, which is to cr?at? a singl? curr?ncy, th? ?co, among six of th? ?COWAS m?mb?r
stat?s. No plans hav? b??n agr??d on how th? ?co will d?al with th? ?xist?nc?
of th? CFA-franc.

Th? sam? story of duplicat?, parall?l,
and comp?ting r?gional arrang?m?nts ?xists in oth?r parts of Africa. D?spit? th?
prolif?ration of trad? arrang?m?nts, th? r?sulting trad? patt?rns hav? b??n
disappointing. B?tw??n 1959 and today, r?gional trad? has only mov?d from 10%
to 12% of total trad?, having dipp?d to a m?r? 5% in th? 1980s. Th? IA 2013 r?port
by UNCTAD acknowl?dg?d that th? num?rous r?gional int?gration initiativ?s had
“larg?ly fail?d to uplift th? ?conomic conditions of African ?conomi?s and ?nsur?
sustainabl? growth and d?v?lopm?nt, and intrar?gional trad? as a proportion of
total trad? r?mains much low?r in Africa than in oth?r d?v?loping r?gions such
as Asia and Latin Am?rica”.

 

Chall?ng?s
to trad?

Half of th? African stat?s hav? a
population of l?ss than 10 million. Only a fifth of th?m hav? populations of ov?r
30 million. Mor?ov?r, just ov?r a fifth of countri?s ar? landlock?d. This mak?s
Africa on? of th? r?gions l?ast abl? to afford to pursu? an ind?p?nd?nt
approach to d?v?lopm?nt. Cr?ating larg?r mark?ts and trading mor? with ?ach oth?r
would s??m ?xc?ll?nt ways of count?ring th?s? w?akn?ss?s. N?v?rth?l?ss, th?r?
ar? many r?asons for th? low l?v?ls of trad?.

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