Covid-19 pandemic impetus for greater regional integration, African countries told at presentation of regional integration index report

As countries rebuild their economies following COVID-19, Africa needs to step up productive and infrastructural integration, participants heard at a regional presentation of the African Regional Integration Index (ARII) held virtually last week.

The index, a joint publication of the Economic Commission for Africa, the African Development Bank and the African Union Commission, provides up-to-date data on the status of regional integration in Africa and assesses the level of integration for every regional economic community and its member countries.

The Index report underlines the need for a renewed commitment to regional integration within Africa, speakers said. They noted that the beginning of trade under the African Continental Free Trade Area in January 2021, amid the Covid-19 pandemic and its disruptive impact on movement and economies, had thrown this into sharper focus.

Alhaji Rashid Kibowa, Director of Trade at the East African Community Secretariat, said the Index report has great potential to address the three major challenges currently facing the continent:  the Covid-19 pandemic, implementation of the AfCFTA, and poverty reduction.

“There is a need for more dialogue on the ARII and methodology issues to expand the scope of coverage of the assessed integration areas. The fundamental issues behind the ARII ought to be whether integration exists for Africa and whether it is effective in terms of achieving poverty reduction and socio-economic transformation for the continent,” said Kibowa.

The report, released in May of last year, found that overall scores for countries in Southern and Eastern Africa show huge room for improvements, especially as to integration within the continent.

The Index indicates that overall, the level of integration on the continent is low, with an average score of 0.327. It notes that Africa is poorly integrated on the productive and infrastructural dimensions, which are key aspects forming the foundations upon which the other dimensions of regional integration depend to function

“The latest edition of the African Regional Integration Index is not only timely but handy to help any African country identify its main strengths and weaknesses with its regional integration performance,” said Stephen Karingi, the Director of the Regional Integration and Trade Division of the East African Community.

Jean-Guy Afrika, the African Development Bank’s Acting Director for the Regional Integration Coordination Office, said the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of the continent, especially the low levels of intra-African trade and the proliferation of non-tariff barriers.

“The continent will only grow economically if we allow the free flow of goods and services across our borders, allow free movement of people, and scale up regional value chains. As a matter of urgency, we bring down tariff and non-tariff barriers, encourage cross-border trade, and open the African skies,” Afrika added.

The Index was presented to the tripartite region of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the East African Community, and the Southern African Development Community on 15 April, with a renewed call for strengthened supply chains and connectivity.

The index, along with its dedicated user-friendly platforms and ARII provides a wealth of data on regional integration in Africa which can be used to further analyze and guide policy development.

In the coming months, the index will be presented to the Arab Maghreb Union and the Economic Community of Central African States.

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