The continent needs to step up efforts to improve road and rail networks, eliminate excessive border bureaucracy, corruption and violent conflicts if it is to achieve full economic integration under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
These, according to Kwadwo Osei-Asante, a consultant to Ghana Chamber of Construction Industry (GhCCI) are critical factors that continue to hold back growth and integration across the region, and therefore require urgent attention if the continent is to unlock the full potential of a duty-free regional trading bloc.
“Looking at 54 countries coming to trade, if you don’t establish the necessary infrastructure, both hard and soft, it cannot be achieved. For the Chamber, our main focus is the hard infrastructure that drive the process,” he said.
The AfCFTA economic bloc is made up of about 1.3 billion people with an estimated combine GDP of US$3.4 trillion, but Mr. Osei-Asante, who spoke in Accra during the National Infrastructure Summit, believes that the region should prioritise infrastructure and eliminate excessive border bureaucracy and corruption so as to ensure seamless movement of goods and persons among member states.
The summit, a three-day event organised by the Chamber of Construction Industry under the theme: ‘The AfCFTA project financing and the construction industry in Ghana – myths or reality’, brought together players in construction and engineering space as well as government agencies to deliberate on how to position the local construction industry as a key player in the AfCFTA market.
He explained that just like the European Union, the continent needs to patiently but painstakingly build the infrastructure needed to reap the benefits of a duty-free regional trade market.
Aside transport infrastructure like train networks, road and air, he wants African states to also give attention to e-universities and virtual learning centres and energy sufficiency.
According to the Chamber, more also needs to be done to provide a level playing field for local contractors to be able to compete with their peers within the continent.
Specifically, the Chamber wants harmonised standards and lower lending rate, which it believes are critical to avoid foreign contractors taking over the local market.
Partner government deliver ‘Year of Roads’ initiative
For his part, the Minister of Roads and Highway, Kwasi Amoako-Atta, urged local contractors to rally behind government’s ‘Year of Roads’ initiative and play their role in ensuring its success.
He underscored the need for unity among contractors in order to be able to take full advantage of the free trade area.
“Government appreciates your good effort in bringing all contractors together. Contractors are the movers and shakers of the economy so if you all come together, you can imagine the help Ghana’s economy will derive. We all know that 2021 is the Year of Roads and I want you to partner the government to deliver this policy and develop good roads for Ghanaians,” he said.
“This summit gives the positive impression that you are prepared to partner the government in developing and delivering quality infrastructure service for this nation. This is a sure way of achieving the nation’s goals for the construction sector to leverage on the opportunities created for the country through the setting up of the AFCFTA,” the minister added.
He reiterated government’s commitment to undertaking infrastructure projects and assured them government will continue to engage as key players in its infrastructure drive.
Corroborating the minister, Kwabena Agyepong (Ing), who was the chairman of the event, emphasised the need for Ghanaian contractors to present a united front in their dealings.
He disclosed that contractors are the backbone of every economy and that local contractors recognize the power they wield in the economy.