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WEF eyes benefits of an accelerated free trade area

A WEF sign sits on the wall inside the Congress Center ahead of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Monday, Jan. 16, 2017. World leaders, influential executives, bankers and policy makers attend the 47th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos from Jan. 17 - 20. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

A WEF sign sits on the wall inside the Congress Center ahead of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Monday, Jan. 16, 2017. World leaders, influential executives, bankers and policy makers attend the 47th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos from Jan. 17 - 20. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Published Feb 1, 2021

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JOHANNESBURG - AFRICAN delegates at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Friday agreed that the continent could accelerate the build-up of productive infrastructure through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Ghana's President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo said it was crucial that Africa harnesses its own resources and deploy them as creatively as possible if it was to produce an inclusive, sustainable recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Akufo-Addo said Africa must return to macroeconomic stability and fiscal responsibility, and leverage rapidly the use of digital technologies to enhance our socio-economic lives.

“The multilateral system is under strain, and we must do all that we can to generate the needed resources to achieve sustainable development,” Akufo-Addo said.

“We in Africa should make every effort to generate for ourselves the additional funds we need to advance, and hopefully our external partners – private and public – will lend their backing to the priorities we set.”

AfCFTA is a key pillar for the region's economic recovery and the world's largest trade agreement, spanning a market of 1.3 billion people and a gross dpmestic product of $3.4 trillion.

Akufo-Addo echoed President Cyril Ramaphosa, who told the virtual WEF Davos Dialogues on Tuesday that South Africa had mobilised around $51 bn (R774bn) in new investment commitments over the last three years.

Ramaphosa said around one-fifth of the committed value had already been invested in construction and essential equipment for mining, manufacturing, telecoms and agriculture.

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“These interventions will enable South Africa to better realise the potential of the African Continental Free Trade Area, which became operational on January 1, 2021.

“South Africa will benefit from greater exports to the continent and domestic sectors such as steel, automotive production, mining and manufactured products are set to benefit, materially boosting economic growth.

Naspers SA chief executive Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa said AfCFTA could help solve some of Africa's most pressing societal needs.

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“AfCFTA creates a new landscape for the continent in terms of trade, people, resources which can help to galvanise growth on an unprecedented scale,” she said.

Absa Group chief executive Daniel Mminele said that public funds and infrastructure investment must be leveraged better, while encouraging the private sector to participate.

“This becomes very clear when we consider how strained fiscal resources are which have had to be put to use to try and support the economy and finance social safety nets in the wake of the pandemic,” Mminele said.

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