UNDP and the Department of Trade and Industry launch the centre for trade and regional integration project

Apr 3, 2017

Participants at the Centre for Trade launch with the guest of honour Minitsre Rob Davies and the UNDP Resident Representative Mr Gana Fofang

Trade and regional integration have been among the key priorities of African leaders and other stakeholders, including public and private sector operators, and development agencies. However, the traditional focus on market integration, aimed at reducing tariffs and non-tariff barriers, has not yielded expected results. It has become clear that Africa needs to broaden its approach to regional integration.

The Project which aims to establish the Southern African Centre for Trade and Regional Integration (CTRI) has been designed with a view to building the capacity of Africa’s trade negotiators in the ongoing Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) and the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) regional integration negotiations as well as to strengthen trade facilitation mechanisms in the region. Specifically, the Centre’s main role will be to facilitate the implementation of the “development integration” approach to regional integration. This implies ensuring that the TFTA and CFTA usher in and drive a process that leads to both the development of productive capacity and cross-border infrastructure. Evidence suggests that for regional integration to be sustainable all its members must benefit, especially, the lesser developed, small, vulnerable, and land-locked countries.

On the 14th and 15th of November, 2016, UNDP and the Department of Trade and Industry (dti)hosted a workshop to discuss ideas and concepts on regional integration and to that end the establishment of a Centre for trade and Regional Integration. The workshop sought views of trade and development practitioners, academics and regional bodies on the establishment of this Centre and traced out its work programme for the years to come. The workshop was premised on the reality that stakeholders are committed to the regional integration process in Africa. It recognised the need to develop a long-term research and policy agenda to contribute to the regional integration process and serve as the foundation for the Centre for Trade and Regional Integration (CTRI) project. This would create the environment within which the Centre could play a facilitating role in stimulating and transforming research and policies into tangible interventions that would support development integration in Africa. Having concluded on the design of the project and completion of extensive consultations a launch of the Project took place on March 30, 2017.

UNDP South Africa in partnership with the South African Department of Trade and Industry (the DTI) launched the Centre for Trade and Regional Integration project (CTRI) at the Capital Menyln Maine Hotel, in Pretoria, South Africa on the 30th of March 2017. The occasion was characterised by broad representation of trade practitioners from Southern Africa including Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and South Africa itself. Additionally, the Commonwealth Foundation recognising the potential of the Project came from London to participate and express interest in engaging with the project moving forward. The Project represents a fusion of academia, Government, regional bodies and private sector. The University of Cape Town is a key partner in the initiative ensuring the capacity for much needed research to inform policy dialogue. The Government of South Africa has demonstrated its commitment through its continued engagement and the presence of H.E. Hon Rob Davis as key note speaker at the event. Likewise the high- level representation of other countries in the region and the regional bodies such as ECA and SADC confirm the willingness for a networked approach to capacity building and trade integration.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Fofang, stated that UNDP’s motivation to support this project is to build on previous efforts to promote trade such as the Integrated Framework and now the Enhanced Integrated Framework which was intended to help Least Developed Countries play a more active role in the global trading system while promoting economic growth and sustainable development to lift more people out of poverty. “It is about creating an environment where trade becomes beneficial to all concerned- a win-win situation”, he said. He noted that in many cases, the benefits of trade do not reach as many people as they should, and mean little those living in poverty and lacking the means to engage in any economic endeavour. “This scenario can give rise to anti-trade sentiments where trade is construed as a one-directional process where the poorer countries are net “receivers” while the bigger economies dominate the supply side”, Mr Fofang said. He added that the other programmes that the initiative intends to build on include Aid for Trade and the African Regional Project which focusses on building African capacity to gain maximum benefit from inclusive globalization and regional integration.

Hon Davies, Minister for DTI, highlighted several points during his address which was entitled “The Changing Global Environment on Trade: Implications for Africa’s Regional Integration agenda”.

The Minister said that globalization works by benefiting a few and not everyone. There has been a “mushrooming” of winner takes all markets with winners reaping huge rewards while “also rans” get little or nothing.

“Globalisation has meant that this phenomenon is increasingly defined on a world rather than national scale. All of this has widened inequality with the numbers of people at the top who own as much wealth as the bottom half now being recorded in a smaller double digit numbers year by year”, said Minister Davies.

He also said that Africa is mainly the producer and the opportunity for trade is very small. “It is critical and timely for Africa to work collectively on issues of trade to leverage opportunity” added the Minister.

The launch included presentations plenary discussion and a panel presentation. This facilitated a broad range of inputs from participants and was highly interactive.

Key issues which were captured during these discussions included an update from DTI by Mr. Wamkele Mene on progress towards realizing the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA). "Technical working groups have been set and are functioning,” said Wamkele. He further explained on the modalities of negotiation as well as the challenges as seen in South Africa context.

The Southern African Centre for Trade and Regional Integration’s work will be located within the UNDP South African work areas of “promoting inclusive growth” and “fostering South Africa’s regional and global role”.

The Centre will advance the developmental regionalism approach to trade and integration in Southern Africa, which is grounded in three principles: (i) increasing trade liberalization by reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers among African countries; (ii) building regional value chains in productive sectors that increase their share of value-added and gains from trade through increased beneficiation and industrial development; and (iii) Cooperating with each other in building cross-border regional infrastructure projects, across a wide field, including transport, energy, communications, and tourism.

The Centre will undertake and facilitate applied research and analysis; collect evidence on policies and good practices in developmental regionalism; develop tools, methodologies and knowledge products for strengthening the implementation and monitoring of regional integration among other things.  Strategic partnerships will be cultivated with a range of research and policy institutions within the continent and in other Global South regions as well as in the Global North. It will promote South-South collaboration and the sharing, exchange and  co-creation of knowledge.