As the continent gears up for the January 1 implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), several countries in the region are standing firm on import bans already in place to support their manufacturing sectors.
Interviewed in online portal Mmegi Online, Botswana’s investment, trade and industry minister Peggy Serame said Botswana “owes no apology for building its manufacturing sector by protecting certain products such as bottled water and baked goods from cheaper imports”.
School uniforms will be added to the list by the end of December, while furniture, pipes and the toilet paper family of products were being assessed, she added.
The lowering of trade barriers for the good of the continent is a dream realised, but practically it’s already facing headwinds.
The recent announcement by South Africa’s minister of trade, industry and competition Ebrahim Patel that the export of hand sanitisers to 30 African countries between June and November had earned the country R1.66bn, has built up resentment among its continental neighbours.
The sanitisers were exported to Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique and Botswana among others.
“At the start of the pandemic, South Africa faced a shortage of hand sanitisers and industry worked with government to expand local production,” said Patel. “Measures were put in place to ensure adequate local capacity and to encourage exports to other African countries.
“As soon as sufficient capacity was built up for local use, the International Trade Administration Commission (Itac) issued permits to local companies to export product to other African countries,” he said.
Quoted by the online portal, Serame said this “was jarring for Batswana who at best were limited to repackaging and distributing locally”.
And this has raised concerns about what has been described as a ‘mega-South Africa’.
Botswana’s imports from SA range from machinery and precious stones to electronic equipment and foods and beverages.
While the region is welcoming its access to the larger continental market, its first concern is protecting its local manufacturing industries – and that means keeping out cheap imports. It was part of the Donald Trump playlist.
AfCFTA may sound good in theory, but it’s the practical implementation that raises many questions.