Launch of the Final Report of the AFTi Inquiry
The United Kingdom’s Africa Free Trade Initiative (AFTi) was launched in 2011 to help African countries to integrate into the world trade system. To mark the fifth anniversary of the scheme, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Trade Out of Poverty appointed an Inquiry Committee of distinguished UK and African experts to review the achievements of AFTi so far and advise on whether there is a case for a successor-initiative.
The Inquiry’s report finds that AFTi programmes, which have focused on cutting tariffs, harmonizing regional trade arrangements, improving both hard and soft trade infrastructure and cutting red tape through modernizing customs systems and procedures, have had a significant effect in improving trading conditions particularly in Eastern and Southern Africa.
AFTi has helped to facilitate co-ordination and reduce investment-related costs between governments and stakeholders across borders. It has also leveraged private sector investment into infrastructure and productive sectors through funding from Development Finance Institutions such as the Commonwealth Development Corporation. AFTi has supported negotiations for the Tripartite Free Trade Area between COMESA, SADC and the EAC, and wider negotiations are now under way under the auspices of the African Union for creation of a Continental Free Trade Area. Much remains to be done, however, particularly in removing trade barriers between 30 different regional groupings and associations in Africa.
The Inquiry found unanimous support among consultees for continuation of this work under a successor to AFTi. Much more work and help is needed, for example to close the infrastructure gap in Africa, particularly in the transport and energy sectors. Building on the successes and lessons since 2011, a successor to AFTi should see an intensification of UK Aid for Trade in East, Southern and West Africa.
There should also be a concerted effort to build on existing strong delivery platforms that are performing well and can be scaled up quickly with support from the UK and other like-minded investors, such as TMEA, PIDG and AgDevCo. To provide stronger and cohesive leadership, an AFTi Special Envoy should be appointed by the Prime Minister.