By Chimwemwe Mangazi:
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca) is expected to engage local private sector players and other stakeholders from next month on how Malawi could go about the ratification process of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to safeguard the interests of the local industry.
This was revealed by the Director of Trade in the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism, Christina Zakeyo-Chatima, following a preparatory meeting for the launch of AfCFTA recently in Ethiopia.
The AfCFTA is expected to be launched on July 7, in Niamey, Niger at an Extra Ordinary Summit of the African Union Heads of State and Government.
It follows speculations and fears among local industry players that once Malawi ratifies the pact, most businesses will be weakened by imports as local products may not favourably compete on the local and international markets and that Malawi may become a dumping market.
Chatima said Malawi is not under pressure to ratify AfCFTA and will do so only when all stakeholders are convinced it is in the best interest of Malawians.
“There are a number of issues that countries will have to discuss and negotiate before trading commences despite the pact entering into force on May 30 and the launch next month. For example, there are issues on rules of origin, initial tariff offers, the Pan African Payment System, the adjustment facility, the Non-Tariff Barrier (NTB) Monitoring System, and for countries like Malawi, we want a longer transitional period for elimination of sensitive products than the proposed 15 years.
“We are currently developing the initial market access offer and we are looking at more than 6,000 tariff lines and we are consulting the private sector because they are the ones that do the actual trading so the issue of ratification will come when all the issues are sorted out,” Chatima said.
Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) Head of Communication, Millie Kasunda, said there was need to tread carefully and ensure that challenges facing the private sector are addressed before ratification is done.
“The private sector is available for engagements but there is need to ascertain the benefits of the pact clearly so that we do not lose out in the process because there are a lot of challenges for the growth of the private sector which needs to be dealt with first,” Kasunda said.
National Coordinator for the National Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (Nasme), William Mwale, said it important that the private sector is engaged because they are skeptical of the trade terms which are new to most entrepreneurs entering into international trade.
“There are tariffs and non-tariffs trade barriers in doing businesses between member states in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc), East African Community, West and Northern Arabic countries. Indeed we need free trading continental business connectivity. I hope before that high-level meeting we shall meet as a nation to be informed and understand the free trade agreements on goods and services movement and the people inclusive,” Mwale said.
Executive Secretary of the Chamber for Small and Medium Business Associations (CSMBA), James Chiutsi, added that rules of origin attribute origin of a country’s product which avoids other countries simply being used as conduits and there is need to give locals a chance to develop and market products uniquely within Malawi.
AfCFTA is encompassing all the 55 members of the AU and it is the only preferential market access initiative available for Malawi to trade with countries in West Africa, North and Central Africa and the aim is to enhance intra-African trade.