Subscribe
The Monitor's View

Africa’s democratic road to economic unity

With the launch of an ambitious project to form a free-trade zone, Africa must also realize that trade is best enhanced when states are democratic.

  • close
    Delegates to the African Union depart after remarks by President Barack Obama in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia July 28.
    Reuters
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption
of

This week, the United Nations began training officials from 19 African countries on how to negotiate a trade deal. Their bargaining skills are crucial right now to complete an ambitious project launched in June by the African Union: the creation of a free-trade zone from Cairo to Cape Town in the next two years.

The continent’s dream of economic integration, dating back at least 35 years, is hardly new. But the urgency is. With free-trade pacts in the works between Europe and the United States, and among 12 countries of the Pacific Rim, African nations realize they must boost trade among themselves.

Only 10 to 12 percent of Africa’s trade is across its internal borders, far lower than in other regions and a sure sign of protectionism. And tariffs between African states are far higher than on goods imported from outside the continent.

“African countries are going to have a hard time to compete globally without regional integration,” said Jendayi Frazer, former US assistant secretary of State for African affairs, at a conference last week.

The African Union’s effort is also driven in part by a rising middle class that is digitally connected to the world. AU leaders talk of “the idea of Africa” in a way that European leaders talked about “the idea of Europe” more than 70 years ago while forming an economic union.

The AU knows it must carefully break down trade barriers. Latin America tried and failed to create a trade union in the 1990s while Southeast Asian nations have struggled for decades to lower their trade barriers. For now, the AU is starting with only 26 of its 54 member countries, or those that are already in one of three regional trade blocs (that have been largely unsuccessful). The proposed trade bloc, known as Tripartite Free Trade Area, would extend from Egypt to South Africa and have a population of 632 million with a combined gross domestic product of $1.3 trillion. Eventually, other states would join to form a body called the Continental Free Trade Area.

Yet to succeed, this trade grouping would eventually need to rely on higher standards of political governance. As the European Union learned by the 1990s, trade is linked to such issues as labor standards, political freedoms, and environmental protections. In fact, the EU decided in 1993 to lay down sweeping democratic standards for the entry of any new member, or what is known as the “Copenhagen criteria.”

Trade is not value free, as it requires qualities such as trust and equality. Democracy is the best safeguard for maintaining open trade between countries. As Africa starts a journey toward economic union, it must also prepare to better implement the ideals on democratic governance of its individual states.

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome
 
 
Make a Difference
Inspired? Here are some ways to make a difference on this issue.
FREE Newsletters
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.
 

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK