As Gambian efforts to reach international markets in order to showcase and market their goods intensify, some Gambian traders have hailed the country’s negotiations effort through the Ministry of Trade to begin trading under the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
The general objective of the AfCFTA include creating a liberalised market for goods and services through successive rounds of negotiations, contribute to the movement of capital and natural persons and facilitate investments by building on the initiatives and developments in the State Parties and the Regional Economic Communities (RECs), lay the foundation for a Continental Customs Union at a later stage; and to promote and attain sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development, gender equality and structural transformation of the State Parties.
It also includes enhancing the competitiveness of the economies of State Parties, and resolving the challenges of multiple and overlapping memberships and expediting the regional and continental integration processes.
Lamin Dampha, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Trade, in an interview explained that the reasons why Gambia is yet to trade under the AfCFTA, saying there are so many unfinished businesses.
“It should have started in January 2020 but unfortunately, because of Covid-19, that could not materialise. Covid-19 has slowed down the negotiation process but everything is kicking up now. Negotiations are ongoing and lots of progress has been registered. The Gambia is among the countries that are actively participating in the negotiation and I have been leading it from 2017 to 2020. We have been contributing a lot in terms of reshaping the rules that are coming out and making sure we have an outcome that is favourable to The Gambia.”
He continued that so far, most of the outcomes are favourable to The Gambia by looking at the transition period, differential treatment and trade supports.
PS Dampha stated that the AfCFTA requires lots of policy shifts and structural adjustments to ensure that The Gambia business environment is very competitive, adding the mindset that the Gambia cannot industrialise because it’s a small country is no more a viable argument.
“The Gambian population as far AfCFTA is concerned is no longer 2.3 million but about 1.2 billion people because we should be able to externalise rest of the continental market and that’s why we are part of the negotiation process.”
He reiterated that The Gambia is not only looking for accessing the market but to be able to attract investments in order to take advantage of the larger market. He continued that if Gambia is able to reform its policy environment to address the structural issues, we should be able to benefit significantly from AfCFTA.
“If everything goes well, our target to trade under AfCFTA is around January next year to finalise all the arrangements that have been delayed for long,” PS Dampha said.
Fatou Sarr, a young Gambian woman trader in an interview held at the Amdalai border post, applauded the government’s efforts, saying joining AfCFTA would help boost their trading chances in the sub-region. She said free trade will help boost their economic status and encourage them to continue performing in the international market.
“I urge the government to speed up the negotiations and consider the best interest of the nation and its business population. We will support the government in its journey and wish that the negotiation be impactful.”
Alieu Jobe, involved in clothes trading, expressed delight while saying he did not know AfCFTA. However, after a brief explanation of the objective of AfCFTA by our reporter, he called on the government to consider local trading in any negotiations while adding that most of the trade agreements affect local traders and are sometimes not considered.
“I think we have so-called trade agreements with other countries because we are not feeling any ease crossing borders. We pay monies that are mainly for tariff but also huge cash to custom officers and checkpoints.”