By Tanatsiwa Dambuza
THE African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is set to benefit SMEs and businesses owned by women entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe. The AfCFTA is an AU Agenda 2063 flagship initiative established to create an integrated continental market for goods and services and to support the movement of capital and natural persons. Article 3 of the Agreement states that these goals will be realized through progressive elimination of tariffs and non-tariff barriers in goods, liberalizations of trade in services and cooperation on investment, intellectual property rights, competition policy and all trade-related areas etc.
The AfCFTA was launched in March, 2018 in Kigali and came into effect on January, 1, 2021. So far 44 of the 54 signatories have ratified the agreement, making it the largest free trade area in the world in terms of the number of countries. Zimbabwe signed the AfCFTA in March 2018 and subsequently ratified it on 25th April 2019 making it one of the earliest members to submit its ratification instruments to the African Union Commission.
The AfCFTA agreement has made it clear under article 3(e) it its general objective to promote and attain sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development, gender equality and structural transformation of the State Parties. Article 27 (2)(e) further stipulates that, state parties must mobilize resources to improve the export capacity of both formal and informal service suppliers, with particular attention to micro, small and medium size; women and youth service suppliers.
This is a clear reflection that, the Agreement is committed to advancing women inclusion in the “One African Market”. The AfCFTA member states are currently negotiating and developing the Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade which will see tariff and non-tariff barriers affecting Zimbabwean youth and women traders eliminated. This is vital because about 60% of MSMEs are owned by women and over 70% of Informal Cross-border Traders are women in Zimbabwe.
According to the AfCFTA Secretariat, “the Protocol is expected to address the specific constraints and barriers women face when trading on the continent. It will create an environment that allows women to utilise the AfCFTA by accessing wider markets, improving their competitiveness, and participating in regional value chains.”
The AfCFTA Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade is expected to eliminate non-tariff barriers faced by women and youth in Zimbabwe and these include; financial exclusion, sexual harassment by border officials, corruption, robberies, poor sanitation and hygiene facilities at borders, border delays, poor market access, restriction of goods, security risks due to their proneness to mugging, robberies and rape etc.
The elimination of these stumbling blocks also means the reduction of gender wage gap, gender inequality and improved livelihoods for women entrepreneurs. It is estimated that trading regime will lift tens of millions especially women and youth from poverty by 2035 if fully and properly implemented (World Bank). Through the AfCFTA, Zimbabwean female entrepreneurs will enjoy market access across the continent.
Free movement of persons, goods and services across the continent facilitated by open borders and lowered tariffs under the auspices of the AfCFTA will allow women entrepreneurs from Zimbabwe to be able to move freely to do business on the continent.
This may seem too ambitious but the AfCFTA secretariat has commenced pilot trading with seven countries including Rwanda, Cameroun, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius and Tanzania. On 30 September, Rwanda issued a Certificate of Origin to @IgireCoffee for coffee products destined to Ghana under the Afcfta Guided Trade (Zimbabwe Institute of African Integration) and on the 23rd of September Kenya made history by becoming the first country to export locally-made batteries to Ghana under the AfCFTA (AfCFTA Secretariat).
So far three certificates of origin have been issued under AfCFTA in preparation of the official launch of the Guided Trade Initiative. Thus, the trade under the AfCFTA is real, feasible and Zimbabwean female entrepreneurs must position themselves strategically in order to enjoy full benefits from the agreement.
However, it is important to note that, women entrepreneurs will not reap these prospective benefits automatically. For example, there are certain standards that needs to be met for products to be exported under any agreement. Thus, women entrepreneurs must ensure that their products are export in order to benefit fully from the AfCFTA.
In Zimbabwe Trade Support Institutions (TSIs) such as Zim Trade are responsible for capacitating women entrepreneurs to make their products ready for exportation through trainings, awareness raising, funding and digital platforms.
The Zimbabwean government, African Union Commission (AUC)and United Nations Economic Commission in Africa (UNECA) in 2019 partnered to validate the gender inclusive AfCFTA National Implementation Strategy which identified that women are key stakeholders of the AfCFTA and various initiatives ought to be taken to ensure that they benefit fully from the agreement.
Thus, for the AfCFTA’s gains to be realized, women entrepreneurs and policy-makers must be aligned; women entrepreneurs must be included in the negotiations and discussions; they must be adequately trained to understand export procedures, including customs processes and quality requirements; they must be trained to sell their products to international markets; and a friendly milieu to access funding for startups must be created.
Overall, the AfCFTA is a game changer for women entrepreneurs because it will: allow them to tap into new markets and investment opportunities; remove tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade; boost their businesses; simplify trade across the continent through digital platforms such as AfCFTA mobile app, PAPSS and AfCFTA e-tariff book etc. Thus, women in Zimbabwe must start researching and preparing for products to trade under the AfCFTA now than latter because the time is ticking and the AfCFTA is almost fully baked.
Tanatsiwa Dambuza (MSc International Trade and Diplomacy, BSc Political Science) is an AfCFTA enthusiast and International Trade consultant who advocates for women and youth inclusion in Regional Economic Agreements. He is also the co-founder of the Zimbabwe Institute of African Integration, a youth-based organization that advocates for regional integration in Africa.
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