2023 Africa Public Service Day finale

The unfolding implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is expected to open a torrent of activities that would test the full might of the South African Public Service and the whole of Government, according to John Rocha, Chief Director for Africa Bilateral Economic Relations at the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC).

Rocha was one of the panellists who spoke during the commemoration of the South African leg of Africa Public Service Day (APSD) in Pretoria, on June 23, after the launch of build-up activities at the start of the week.

APSD is an annual event that aims to recognise and celebrate the role of public servants in delivering efficient and effective services to citizens. This year’s celebration theme was “The Year of AfCFTA: Acceleration of the African Continental Free Trade Area Implementation,” highlighting the importance of regional integration and economic development in Africa.

The APSD celebrants, mainly public servants who attended APSD Roundtable physically and online, heard of the enormity of AfCFTA and the pivotal role they would have to play.

“A very important point is that implementing the AfCFTA is the business of all of us. It’s the business of every official irrespective of title, irrespective of the department you are working in, and irrespective of your daily tasks,” explained Rocha.

According to Rocha, the continent’s social, economic and developmental integration is a long-standing objective of the Organisation for African Unity, which preceded the African Union (AU). In this regard, AfCFTA, as a flagship of the AU’s Agenda 2063, is a milestone in efforts to reverse the stubborn legacies of Africa’s colonial histories that are reflected in current economic distortions:

  • Africa has 17% of the world’s population but just 4% of global GDP and 2% of world manufacturing.
  • Africa’s share of world trade is approximately 3%.
  • Intra-Africa exports grew to 16.3% of Africa’s total trade between 2018 and 2020, which is low compared to intra-Asian trade (55%), intra-North American trade (49%), and intra-EU trade (63%).

“The struggle for independence and freedom in Africa was not just about the political emancipation of our continent. It also had at its core a strong yearning for Africans to take full control and responsibility for their social and economic well-being. Today, the conditions to materialise the vision of an economically empowered African continent appear to be more favourable than ever before in our history, hence the urgent need to ACT NOW,” he added.

The “favourable” condition to which Rocha referred includes the conclusion of the legal basis for the operationalisation of AfCFTA, which began on January 1, 2021, following the 13th Extra-Ordinary Summit of the African Union (AU) Heads of State and Government held on December 5, 2020.

Since then, much progress has been made towards the institutionalisation of AfCFTA, which includes the buy-in of 54 of the AU’s 55 member states, with 46 of these having ratified the agreement.

While the AfCFTA seeks to right the social, economic and political ills of Africa’s past, it does this in a more agreeable position than the forebears of the AU found themselves decades ago. The continent’s growing population constitutes an enviable global market, and its young population is a pivotal resource in terms of the muscle, energy, and creativity associated with youth. More than ever, there are also a lot of favourable figures despite the generally gloomy economic data that is associated with the African continent:

  • 22 African countries count other African countries as their main export markets.
  • 5 count it as their second-most important market.
  • Over three-quarters of intra-African trade is within regional trading blocs.
  • While commodities dominate Africa’s exports to the rest of the world, Intra-Africa trade largely involves value-added manufactured products.

“Under this agreement, the potential to increase our exports to the continent is huge. Putting all our efforts and hands together could easily double our exports to the continent. Currently, we are exporting about 380 billion rands worth of goods to the continent, between 70%  to 80% of which comprises manufactured goods.

The intra-Africa trade’s significance in manufactured goods indicates the extent of the value added along the chain, rather than exporting raw materials to other parts of the world, which robs countries of much-needed economic value, said Rocha.

Regarding the theme of the 2023 APSD and the role of the Public Service, Rocha was at pains to emphasise that the promise that AfCFTA holds depends on the efforts of the Government as a whole. Such readiness includes developing appropriate capacity, skills, and training to build robust institutions and systems that anticipate and mitigate risks and constantly respond to changing dynamics.

According to Rocha, the Public Sector must align efforts in implementing the AfCFTA by coordinating municipal and national departments and involving other stakeholders. However, it is the Government that has the ultimate responsibility for the implementation of AfCFTA and not individual interests, he advised.