‘Francophone, Anglophone blocks must end trade barriers’

Oil. PHOTO: FinancialTribune

Diversification, jobs creation key to continent’s growth

For Africa to witness rapid transformation and growth in its economy, Francophone and Anglophone countries must dismantle the trade barriers between them and move towards a more robust and sustainable regional economy.This was the position of financial experts who gathered in Lagos during this year’s Global Trade Review (GTR) West Africa Trade and Export Finance conference.

They canvassed and maintained that only stronger trade and economic ties between the two blocks will ensure the continent witnessed rapid and sustained growth across economies of member states.The Country Head, United Kingdom (UK) Representative Office and Head, Group Research, Ecobank, Edward George, told The Guardian at the conference that with a 2016 trade figure of $158 billion, the West African Sub-region was the strongest growing economy in Africa.

He however, lamented that the trade barriers imposed by mostly the Francophone African countries was restricting trade and investment inflows into the sub-region, a situation he said, could be corrected by easing up trade barriers with their Anglophone counterparts.

George pointed out that volatility in commodities, especially crude oil has been a major challenge to the African economy, particularly Nigeria, which relies on solely on oil for its earnings.He added that there was a rebound in Nigeria’s economy, which is evident in the flexibility in foreign exchange regime of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), insisting, this was a strong indicator of recovery and growth in the economy and by implication, that of West Africa and the entire continent.

“For Nigeria and indeed Africa to experience economic boom, there must be every conscious effort to diversify from a mono economy to a multi-commodities economy. Nigeria must move away from overreliance on oil to other areas like agriculture, technology and human capital development, among others,” he said.Also speaking, CBN’s Deputy Director of Trade and Exchange, Olu Vincent, who gave the keynote address, stressed the need for diversification to non-oil export and a move away from exports of raw commodities that do not add value.

“We need to stimulate growth because Sub-Sahara Africa has the challenges of technology and capacity to manage its economy. In the 1950s up to the 1970s, Nigeria had over 100 textile mills. Today, there are less than five functional textile companies in the country,” he stated.He also lamented the unemployment situation in Africa, especially Nigeria, saying the country must address jobs creation and reduce unemployment to the barest minimum because “when the youth remain unemployed for too long, they turn violent.”

Vincent further condemned activities of parallel market operators, who have ensured that the naira continues to struggle against major currencies of the world, especially the dollar.“Parallel market is an illegal market. Those who hawk foreign currencies are liable to prosecution. The CBN does not fix exchange rate and money for Bureau de Change (BDC) operators is not sovereign wealth. In all, the volatility will reduce but it will take some time to stabilise.

“Regrettably, however, we have not been able to address the illegal market and dollarisation of the Nigerian economy. Our experience in Nigeria is that schools and even some embassies collect fees in dollars.”We see a quantitative easing of the monetary policy in the months ahead,” he added.

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