Cameroon’s first five-year strategy on which to anchor its gainful participation in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), expected to go fully operational by 1 July 2020 when borders will actually open up, is being finalised.

This is in the wake of an intense reviewing process of a preliminary draft strategy tabled by the country’s Ministry of Economy, Planning and Regional Development and that of Trade with the technical support of experts of the UN Economic Commission for Africa’s (ECA’S) African Trade Policy Centre (ATPC) and Subregional Office for Central Africa. The exercise benefitted from the financial support of the European Union (EU). 

The draft document which a multiple range of experts has reviewed in two enlarged sessions – one in Douala and another in Yaounde –  identifies productive segments notably in agribusiness in which Cameroon has comparative advantages to benefit from the promising 1.2 billion people and over 2.5 trillion US dollar market created by the AfCFTA. In this regard, the cotton oil and the palm oil subsectors, as well as cereal transformation, have been underlined as the most promising.

Other profitable productive areas highlighted are rubber and rubber products, glass and glasswork, electrical equipment, household products, , wood and woodwork and mineral beneficiation as well as metal products, especially those based on aluminium.

Services including transport and Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) engineering are equally being proposed for the final document.

“It is indeed important that Cameroon equips itself with operational instruments that would enable our country not only to prepare to make the most of the opportunities offered by this vast continental market but also to reduce associated risks by providing adequate mitigation measures,” declared Paul Tasong, Minister Delegate in the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Regional Development during the opening of the Yaounde review session on 27 November 2019.

He noted that “making full use of the potential benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Area requires addressing multiple challenges by using a wide range of complementary policies to strengthen the link between production, industrialization and trade.”

“This brings me to quote the Head of State who urges us to win the development battle together,” the minister alluded.

Several strategic interventions underpin the draft strategy. They include: ensuring broad-based ownership of the AfCFTA agreement; overhauling the country’s legal and institutional framework relating to foreign trade; improving the quality of economic and trade infrastructure; reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers and all obstacles to trade; boosting the local processing of commodities; developing cross-border value chains;  setting up standby measures; prioritizing trade with huge economies within Cameroon’s geographical neighbourhood such as Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and ensuring the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the strategy.

In this regard, Antonio Pedro, Director of ECA’s Subregional Office for Central Africa argued that “the establishment of a conducive business environment to improving the productive capacity of the private sector is a concern to both state and non-state actors”.

“This is one of those cases where collaboration between the public and private sector has to be at its best; coherence between the trade, industrial development and foreign policies has to be enhanced; and a closer attention needs to be paid to interventions at the macro and micro levels”, he added.

He noted that prohibitive taxes and inadequate infrastructure kill businesses and called for actions to improve access of businesses to finance, technology and skilled labour force.

Pedro put the objective of the exercise into perspective, saying “Cameroon’s accession to this new market must contribute to the creation of trade rather than a diversion of trade.

“More specifically, it must contribute to a significant increase in Cameroon’s exports to the rest of Africa. The new market must also enable Cameroon to obtain better supplies of inputs and factors of production necessary for its economy.”

He said “it is necessary that the advent of this great market allows Cameroon to better diversify its economy, even to industrialize. This must be done through the production of more and more sophisticated goods with high added value. This is possible since the demand is there,” he reckoned.

More than100 participants including Government officials; industrial employers’ associations; the Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Crafts; consumer and women’s associations; civil society champions; entrepreneurial coaches; international trade specialists; media practitioners and entrepreneurs; shippers and academics concurred that these measures are crucial for avoiding a scenario where Cameroon becomes a dumping ground for better goods and services produced elsewhere, when the common market  goes operational.

Cameroon and other African countries party to the AfCFTA Agreement are committing to eliminate tariffs on 90% of the goods they produce destined for other African markets. In this context, intra-African trade is likely to increase by 52.3% by 2040 and attract to Cameroon, a large flow of investments and opportunities, with a consolidated and well-implemented strategy.

Experts at the just ended review have insisted that the strategy be aligned as much as possible with broader development operational frameworks such as the Cameroon’s National Growth and Employment Strategy Paper and the country’s Industrial Development Masterplan.

Other areas flagged include the goods and services’ quality and safety; sustainable financing of production, continuous capacity development and consistent mobilization of key actors, for instance through a digital participatory platform.

A budget for implementing the strategy is still being finalized but the reviewers were clear that it should be consequential. It should enable the overhauling and modernisation of existing infrastructure; the development of new ones with particular import on building railroads and rolling stock; funding of aggressive and systematic diplomatic and marketing campaigns for investing in and buying from Cameroon; and repositioning Douala as the air transport hub of Central Africa.

A National Implementation Committee headed by the Minister of Trade is to be established with the responsibility of to overseeing the operationalising of the national AfCFTA strategy, once approved.

Although the ministries of Public Works, Water and Energy, Posts and Telecommunications, Transport, Housing and Urban Development and State Property and Land Tenure have been identified as critical players to the success of the strategy, the private sector is singled out as the most concerned actor.

Mr Olomo Ateke Engelbert who closed the review session in Yaounde on behalf of the Minister of Economy, Planning and Regional Development, therefore appreciated the contribution of the private sector in throughout the process leading to the formulation of the strategy and said they should get to work immediately towards making Cameroon a winner in the continental market.