AYV News May 23, 2023
The Government of Sierra Leone, through the Ministry of Trade and Industry had been briefed on plans by the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) to facilitate a joint UN engagement and informed advocacy to support the country to leverage better the opportunities presented by the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) as part of the country’s drive for economic recovery and sustainable development.
United Nations Resident Coordinator (RC) Babatunde Ahonsi said the UNCT is aware of the economic challenges developing countries, including Sierra Leone, are facing because of global shocks’ impacts, “including the prolonged effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and most recently the war in Ukraine.”
He further said that despite these economic challenges, the UN believes that the country can benefit from several opportunities presented by the AfCFTA agreement. “As the implementation of AfCFTA started on 1st January 2021, it is important that Sierra Leone seriously and speedily seeks to explore intra-regional trade opportunities and maximise economic growth advantages offered by AfCFTA, the world’s largest free trade agreement by the number of participating countries,” he emphasised.
He stressed that a collective and more systematic engagement by the UN system in Sierra Leone would better enable the country to significantly and beneficially grow its exports and imports from other African countries through the enhanced opportunities and arrangements offered by AfCFTA. The UNCT, Mr Ahonsi disclosed, has already identified a number of critical steps that will push forward this initiative based on the leadership of the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
In his response, Minister Sandy thanked the RC and the UNCT for opting to support the Ministry in its efforts to operationalise AfCFTA in Sierra Leone and noted that they are ready to work with the UN to strengthen the institutional framework and strategy for fully implementing the AfCFTA agreement.
He also informed the RC that the structures are already in place in his Ministry but would need to be strengthened through technical collaboration with the UN.
Minister of Trade and Industry, Dr Edward Hinga Sandy
called for the involvement of other players, including the private sector and the media, to intensify public dialogue on the national AfCFTA Strategy and acknowledged the need to prepare the private sector to produce and ensure they have access to raw materials and to be able to compete internationally.
The minister agreed with the UN RC on the need for enhanced intra-African trade and support to strengthen local businesses.
He believes this will trigger job creation for Sierra Leone’s youthful population. He noted that for every revenue Government loses in the form of concession to the private sector, there should be a corresponding benefit of job creation in the country.
Dr Sandy ended by acknowledging that all the issues Mr Ahonsi raised are very important and that his Ministry is ready to work with the UN to ensure Sierra Leone benefits from the AfCFTA agreement.
Recently, the RC had a virtual meeting with the Chief of Staff of the Accra-based AfCFTA Secretariat. At that meeting, Mr Ahonsi obtained clarity on what the UN could do to best support Sierra Leone to intensify its operationalisation of AfCFTA at the country level.
It also brought to the fore the sort of support that is available at the Secretariat for member states to fully implement AfCFTA and the steps being taken to ensure that informal sector, women, and youth issues are adequately factored into AfCFTA processes.
Key takeaways from that meeting which would require collaboration between the UN and the Ministry of Trade and Industry, include broad-based validation and popularisation of the national AfCFTA Implementation Strategy to secure the buy-in and engagement of all relevant MDAs, private sector, development partners, and other relevant stakeholders.
Also, the need for a National AfCFTA Coordination Office as a high-level inter-ministerial and multi-stakeholder oversight and management mechanism for AfCFTA implementation and the urgent need for the country to participate in the upcoming Intra-African Trade Fair in Abidjan in November with the strong involvement of the private sector.
Additionally, there is a need for official outreach to the Secretariat to identify the products that businesses in Sierra Leone may wish to export and import as part of intra-Africa trade with preferential tariff arrangements with other countries under the Guided Trade Initiative of AfCFTA.