Challenges within EU’s and African trade regimes to boost agricultural trade

Regional integration can play a vital role in diversifying economies, strengthening food systems, creating jobs and alleviating poverty.

On 20th November 2019, GIZ and the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) jointly organ-ised a Capacity4Change (C4C) event in the premises of the GIZ Representation in Brussels. The event aimed at contributing to the discussion on possible barriers and enablers to boost African agricultural trade, by taking Tunisia and Southern Africa as examples and inviting three keynote speakers for the topic “Best Practices: Different degrees of integration: in Tunisia and SADC”. Roughly 80 representatives of the European Commission, EU Member States, African countries, NGOs, think tanks and the private sector followed the invitation and actively engaged in the lively discussion. One major focus point of the discussion was the “African continental free trade area” (AfCFTA), a flagship project of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, entered into force in May 2019 and being signed by 54 of the 55 members so far. 

Bettina Rudloff, Senior Associate (SWP), gave insights on the level of regional integration in North Africa, as well as hindering factors and trade relations between the EU and Tunisia. She stated that North Africa has the lowest level of regional trade worldwide. The EU remains one of the most important trading partners for Tunisian agricultural exports - even though trade shares have slightly shifted over the past ten years. 

Mohamed Ridha Ben Mosbah, Ambassador of Tunisia to the EU, underlined the im-portance of trade for Tunisia. He outlined that North Africa’s low level of regional integration is partly due to the result of geographical and political issues. He stressed that Tunisia could only profit from a higher level of regional integration. As a member of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), and an observer of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Tunisia is in a very good position to strengthen its regional com-mitment, he explained. 

Sean Woolfrey, Policy Officer at ECDPM, focused on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as a regional economic community (REC) with a comparably high re-gional integration. One must keep in mind that due to methodological issues the estimated integrations rates might not represent the reality. Furthermore, he explains when comparing SADC with other RECs, the history of colonialism should not be forgotten. SADC is very spe-cial due to the high economic power of South Africa as well as the well-functioning custom union within this REC. This special history makes a comparison and replication hard if not impossible. 

All speakers together provided some major recommendations for the AfCFTA and on how to boost regional integration:

  • The RECs will have to function as the pillars of the AfCFTA
  • Integration is not just about liberalising tariffs (also infrastructure and non-tariff barriers (NTBs))
  • Domestic politics shape implementation and outcomes
  • There is need for more coherence between agriculture and trade policies
  • Support of AfCFTA as facilitator for regional integration e.g. in North Africa

During the panel discussion the keynote speaker, additional experts and the audience had the chance to exchange their views and thoughts on the question “From regional to continental integration: What obstacles and what means to overcome them?”

Yvonne Chileshe, Expert for Protocols and Commodities at the ACP Secretariat, for example stressed the high correlation between liberalization and NTBs, while Remco Vahl, Senior Expert at the European Commission’s DG TRADE, emphasized the importance of sharing lessons learned. The EU has vast experiences on issues surrounding regional integra-tion and continues to learn. Therefore, the EU strongly supports regional integration in Africa.

All participants agreed on the importance of coherent agriculture and trade policies to foster regional integration as well as on simple and flexible rules of origin. About that, Yvonne under-lined that the “thickness of borders” is one of the main reasons hampering regional integration. 

The closing remarks hold by Dr. Christine Wieck, Professor at the Chair for Agricultural and Food Policy, University of Hohenheim, called for open dialogue and performance-based road maps. Strong African institutions and a clear focus are necessary to achieve this ambitious goal.