Africa’s export growth promising

A staff waits to load cargo for export to the UK on December 19, 2023.

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

The 2024 Global Trade Outlook and Statistics report released by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) heralds promising prospects for global trade amid a heating competitive landscape. Within this comprehensive analysis lies a beacon of hope for Africa, as the continent stands poised to harness its potential as an alternative production destination.

Amid projections of modest global trade growth, Africa emerges as a beacon of promise, with its export outlook in 2024 anticipated to surge by 5.3 percent. This robust growth trajectory, albeit from a low base post-Covid-19, signals a significant shift in Africa's trade dynamics.

It signifies a potential recovery from the pandemic's economic fallout and hints at an expansion of trade activities within the region. This surge underscores Africa's latent potential to carve out a more substantial presence in the global trade arena.

While the report paints a hopeful picture of Africa's trade prospects, it also shines a spotlight on glaring inadequacies that demand strategic attention. From infrastructure gaps to institutional weaknesses, Africa grapples with many challenges that impede its ability to fully capitalise on trade opportunities.

In particular, the continent's response—or lack thereof—to the notion of reshoring production due to geopolitics underscores a need for introspection. While some countries boast favourable infrastructure and burgeoning industrial capabilities, realising their potential hinges on increased investment and trade opportunities with friendly nations.

The report serves as a clarion call for Africa to transcend its status as a mere potential player in the global trade arena and actively assert its position. It underscores the urgent need for African nations to confront the challenges hindering their competitiveness and take decisive steps to alter the prevailing trade narrative.

By leveraging the insights gleaned from the report, African countries can identify areas where they hold comparative advantages and strategically position themselves for trade success. This necessitates a concerted effort to bolster industrial bases, enhance infrastructure, and cultivate mutually beneficial trade partnerships.

Against the backdrop of geopolitical tensions and economic uncertainties, the report offers valuable insights into navigating the complex terrain of global trade. It underscores the resilience of the global economy in the face of various shocks, highlighting the remarkable recovery of trade volumes in recent years.

Moreover, it places a strong emphasis on the importance of monitoring trade in intermediate goods and digitally delivered services as key indicators of global value chain health. By doing so, African nations can identify emerging sectors for growth and position themselves strategically within evolving trade dynamics.

As the global trade landscape evolves, proactive measures are imperative to ensure sustained recovery and growth. The report identifies several risks to the global trade outlook, including geopolitical tensions, policy uncertainties, and price fluctuations in food and energy markets.

In response, governments are urged to adopt strategic decision-making approaches prioritising stability and resilience. This entails leveraging existing trade relationships, investing in infrastructure development, and fostering a conducive environment for trade and investment.

Despite the myriad challenges, growth opportunities abound for Africa. By effectively leveraging existing trade relationships and infrastructure, African nations can capitalise on emerging sectors and expand their presence in global value chains.

The report underscores the importance of monitoring trade in intermediate goods and digitally delivered services, which serve as barometers of global economic health. Moreover, it advocates for proactive measures to mitigate trade cost increases and navigate international relations uncertainties.

The report offers invaluable insights into Africa's evolving trade landscape. It highlights the continent's potential for export growth while underscoring critical deficiencies that must be addressed. African nations can chart a course towards sustained trade recovery and prosperity by heeding the report's recommendations and adopting proactive measures.

It is time for Africa to rise to the occasion, seize the opportunities at hand, and reshape its trade narrative for the betterment of its people and the continent.

The writer is Kenya’s Ambassador to Belgium, Mission to the European Union, Organization of African Caribbean and Pacific States and World Customs Organisation. The article is written at a personal level.

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