A case for hosting AfCFTA secretariat

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Gertrude Mawire
Zimbabwe is a member of several trade bodies across the world like the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Southern African Development Community (SADC), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and Interim Economic Partnership Agreement (iEPA) with the European Union.

She has also formalised some bilateral trade relations with countries such as Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia and others. According to Sean Woolfrey in an article entitled a new approach to investment governance in Africa, published as part of the Trade Law Centre 2013 /2014 yearbook, we had signed 32 Bilateral Investment agreements by the end of 2014.

The motivations for entering into these agreements are usually economic development related. This development is expected to be achieved through an increase in exports, foreign direct investments, etc arising from the agreements themselves. Indirectly these advantages are expected to meet the main social needs such as employment creation, infrastructure development such as roads and houses.

Engaging in free trade will also eventually mean we get access to technology and skills development. As a natural result of these anticipated benefits, Zimbabwe was one of the 44 forerunners to the signing of the newly created AfCFTA.

Various economic commentators, analysts, and other institutions have not been so welcoming of the move. They hold the sentiment that Zimbabwe is not ready for the level of Trade Integration envisaged by the AfCFTA. The main reason given is that we have an under-developed industrial base that provides a deterrent on our ability to compete for the huge market offered by the AfCFTA.

In addition, they say that agreeing to remove tariff barriers may negatively impact on local revenue collections. A large chunk of the 4 to 8 percent of total ZIMRA collected revenues that are usually collected from international trading transactions every year may be at risk if the trade agreement is implemented.

The final decision as to whether to join or not to be largely is a political reason, as evidenced by how quickly Zimbabwe signed the agreement even before the affected electorate had managed to digest the arrangement. There was a lot of outcry from various sectors saying that the government had taken an ill-advised step. This author will say all this is now much ado about nothing done as the deal has been done.

Besides there is still a lot of time to “prepare” as the AfCFTA is only at its teething stages, we are far from ‘opening our markets’.

We now need to be forward looking. There is low hanging fruit arising from the administrative set-up of the AfCFTA, which no-one ever considers as meaningful. Hosting of the trade organisation’s Secretariat may definitely bring about unprecedented benefits for Zimbabwe.

The benefits could accrue directly and quicker. AfCFTA is potentially going to be one of the larger Trade organisations after the NAFTA, ASEAN FTA, EU and BRICS, which means everything will be in larger numbers i.e. size of offices, staff compliment, etc
Hosting the AfCFTA Secretariat will therefore have so many benefits for Zimbabwe
Chief among these is the creation of jobs. Instead of whining about the jobs that could have been created from increased exports resulting from increased manufacturing, hosting the central office of AfCFTA will immediately create jobs for the Secretariat staff, construction jobs from construction of offices and jobs for local companies, which would provide services for the Secretariat. These include hotels providing accommodation for foreign employees, ambassadors and visitors coming on AfCFTA business. A secretariat of that size could easily create hundreds of jobs for locals with only a few expatriates coming in as per the AfCFTA rules.

In addition to providing work for service providers, the AfCFTA would also increase their business and revenue through the use of hotel facilities by visitors, people coming for AfCFTA conferences. Not only the tourism businesses would benefit but many others including Information Technology, Education and so forth.

Knowledge and ICT transfer during the various capacity building sessions would be a boon for Zimbabwe as they will likely be the host and main organizers of the events as the host of the Secretariat.

Hosting the AfCFTA Secretariat successfully would help improve perception of Zimbabwe as an Investment and Trade destination. As the host nation, we would obviously put in place measures to lead by example. For us the AfCFTA should be “going concern” forever.

Having the largest continental organisation’s trade Secretariat in Zimbabwe would increase the country’s foreign currency generation potential as well. This will be as a result of all the administrative activities of the AfCFTA secretariat and increased economic activities within the country.

If the African continental players chose Zimbabwe as the Secretariat home, they will be at no pains to justify their decision as we clearly have the capacity to host the secretariat.

Firstly, we are one of the frontrunners to the initial signing the deal which says a lot about our excitement, commitment and agreement with the initiative. We would not want an initiative to which we have so much love for die a natural death and therefore providing a home for the secretariat would only be a given.

Our other African compatriots should also know that Zimbabwe has the skills and potential to run with the organisation’s central coordination efforts.

At the moment, we have many locals making great contributions or made contributions earlier in other multilateral organisations and other countries trade bodies and trade related bodies e.g. Yotamu Jacob, Khauhelo Mawana, Chenjerai Chibaya, Christine Msemburi, Sindiso Ngwenya, Petros Shayanewako, Annah Ndeketeya.

The land and physical infrastructure needed to host the AfCFTA is abundantly available in our beautiful Zimbabwe. This includes suitable offices, banks, hospitals, holiday facilities for the organisation’s business.

The country is also undergoing massive construction projects for different facilities and has incomplete projects like the massive Chiyangwa’s unfinished hotel in Borrowdale, which can easily be modified to house the AfCFTA headquarters.

Zimbabwe is a conveniently located member of the AfCFTA both physically and politically. The Cape to Cairo road and rail networks both pass through Zimbabwe.

A peaceful political landscape prevails in Zimbabwe. As I write, we are going through and are at the heart of an election period but this has not stopped us from going about with our usual business activities. Zimbabwe would definitely be a perfect host for the AfCFTA Secretariat joining of ranks of countries like Botswana which hosts SADC, Switzerland the host of the World Trade Organisation, Zambia which hosts COMESA.

Disclaimer: This Article is not meant to create a consultant/client Relationship. Readers are advised to consult their Consultants for specific advisory services.

About the author: Gertrude Mawire is a Fiscal Compliance and Investment Advisor based in Harare. She writes in her personal capacity. Gertrude holds an MSc in Finance & Investments (NUST) Bachelor of Business Studies (UZ), IOBZ Diploma various other Certificates. She can be contacted on mawireg@gmail.com and 0712 437256

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