VP Howard-Taylor addresses AfCFTA Confab of Women and Youth in trade -Says Impact AfCFTA Must Spread Out Across Africa

MONROVIA – When 44 member states of the Africa Union met in Kigali, Rwanda, back in March 2018 and signed the Africa Continent Free Trade Area, the expressed objective was to work towards eliminating barriers to trade in Africa, as to significantly boost intra-Africa trade, particularly trade in value-added production and trade across all sectors of Africa’s economy. Countries committed themselves to eliminating tariffs on most goods and services over a period of time. Four years on, some analysts are asking if the highly publicized trade agreement is worth it, even though it is actually a flagship program targeting a rollout period of up to 2063. Fortunately, on 12 September 2022, the Secretariat convened an AfCFTA Conference on Women and Youth in Trade, and Liberia’s Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor was a special guest. In a statement, she pleaded with African countries and other signatories to the ACFTA to ensure that the impact of the Trade Agreement spreads over all populations of Africa. The Analyst reports.

The Vice President of the Republic of Liberia has told stakeholders and member states of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) that the success of the African Continental Free Trade will not solely be assessed on its impact on trade, but also, on how it has improved the development trajectory of the African Continent relative to the empowerment of its women and youth, as the true engine of sustainable development.

Speaking as a major presenter at the AfCFTA Conference On Women And Youth In Trade held September 12, 2022 in Dar Es Salaam, the United Republic of Tanzania, Vice President Taylor called on actors to ensure that trade benefits created by this new policy environment “reach those parts of African populations that did not have access to them before; and that they are inclusive enough to bridge the gender gaps which plagues our economies; consequently, hindering the ability of women and youth to not just participate but to succeed and grow”.

Madam Vice President called for the creation of the AfCFTA Secretariat for Gender Mainstreaming of women and youth which will focus on the formulation of specific policies to enhance the empowerment of women and youth. Madam Vice President emphasized the compelling need for hands on approach and collaboration necessary to ensure the actualization and subsequent transformation of the lives of the largest segment of Africa’s population, the women and youth.

She drew the audience’s attention to what she called “a few critical points for your consideration in drawing up the final resolution for the implementation of the AfCFTA as it relates to Women and Youth”.

In acknowledgment of the fact that the Agreement has general provisions for gender equality and empowerment,” Dr. Taylor said it was imperative that a clear road map be established to ensure that this general commitment be translated into concrete, actionable steps towards reality.

She said through strong policy actions and legal reforms that ensure fair inclusion in trade; removal of all barriers to trade which hinder and exclude participation, protection from all forms of violence and exploitation, affordable and accessible credit which allows freedom of growth for SMEs and creation of special financial services which ensure inclusion for all.

She also noted the creation of new Innovative approaches which foster faster economic growth for Women and Youth led businesses, and said, for example, “removal of the general stereotypes which peg and limit them to micro credit facilities.

She continued: “The availability of financing should be considered on the basis of the business proposal and possibilities for acceleration. Another example could be the consideration of financing easier and better ways for production- ie. Provision of better tools for production instead of keeping them stuck using old tools of their trade (new small tillers for farmers instead of hoes; provision of dryers which turn raw products into finished goods; or those which reduce processing times. And the expansion of opportunities for moving goods and services from producers to consumers) by better, secured and cheaper means such as postal services, trucking, train systems etc) which could eliminate or reduce the need for massive cross border trade.”

She noted further that the engagement of all stakeholders in the fight for true free movement of goods and persons across Africa. This, she said, is still the most entrenched barrier to AfCFTA.

Africa, according to Veep Taylor, is the hardest Continent to travel through, with many unnecessary bottlenecks and harassments which makes it impossible to even dream of trade amongst Nations.

“So someone who wants Rubber for their factories will prefer the ease of doing business in the West, as opposed to seeing the unlimited possibilities of Rubber coming from West Africa, with all the challenges appertaining thereto,” she stressed and added: “The facilitation and employment of digital options to upgrade and include those from the informal economy into the formal economy; with all the benefits which accrue to both the National systems and Individual growth and development.”

Dr. Taylor said keeping in mind that Women make up 50 percent of the continent’s population and represent 70 percent of all informal traders in Africa, mainly because of their informal statuses which keeps them marginalized; without opportunities for development and lack of access to financial support.

“This definitely keeps this large productive group off the radar and in perpetual generational cycles of poverty,” she emphasized.

Making additional suggestions, Vice President Taylor indicated that although AfCFTA highlights the importance of gender equality, a more radical form of gender mainstreaming needs to be put into place if trade in Africa is to effectively and sustainably advance women’s empowerment, rights, and equality.

She therefore stressed the urgent need for the establishment of clear and concise gender protocol if this objective must be realized.

“There is a need for protocols coming from the AfCFTA agreement which establishes clear ground rules on how gender and trade-related issues in Africa should be addressed; and provisions for the monitoring and evaluation of the same to ensure compliance,” she indicated. “Creating a sure way for the full protection, empowerment, and galvanization of urgent resources needed for women and youth.”

Dr. Taylor also said the AfCFTA will contain the same critical gaps that exist in current programs which run the risk of undermining its own ambitions by exacerbating existing issues for both groups such as lack of real opportunities for transformation, low literacy rates, limited property rights, and sexual violence, among others, without the realization and acceptance of the power of women and youth as the key engines for the success of AfCFTA.

Liberia’s Vice President commended the visionary decision of African leaders to collaborate and diversify economic  acceleration through the intra- Africa trade. She further argued that the success of AfCFTA will not be solely assessed on its impact on trade, but also on how it has improved the development trajectory of the African continent relative to the empowerment of its women and youth.

      Vice President Howard-Taylor further intimated that the provision of affordable and accessible credit to women and youth,  the removal of general stereotypes to engender micro credit facilities, and the free movement of goods and persons across Africa are amongst the most critical issues required in drawing up the final resolution for the implementation of AfCFTA as it relates to women and youth. 

     Madam Vice President concluded with commendations for the adoption of AfCFTA which is historically now the largest trade pact to take effect since the establishment of the World Trade Organization, covering more than a billion people across the African continent.

      While in Dar Es Salaam, Vice President Howard-Taylor held discussions with His Excellency Wamkele Mene, Secretary General of the AfCFTA Secretariat. The meeting centered on exploring possibilities of establishing the AfCFTA Secretariat in Liberia and the promotion of intra-Africa trade.  The Vice President committed to ensure that the Liberia National Legislature ratifies the AfCFTA.

    The Vice President concluded her engagements with a meeting with Her Excellency Samia Suluhu Hassan, President of United Republic of Tanzania where the two leaders agreed on the need to strengthen bilateral relations between both Nations and peoples as well as discussions on collaboration in the areas of mining, agriculture and tourism.

     The United Republic of Tanzania gained independence in 1961. It is the largest country in East Africa and hosts the Headquarters of the Eastern Africa Community (EAC) with the Country’s economy mainly dependent on agriculture, mining and tourism.

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