BUJUMBURA January 4th (ABP) – The African Continental Free Trade Area (ZLECAF) is a free trade area project being established across the African continent.

The objectives of ZLECAF are first of all to strengthen African trade by creating a freer market for goods and services. Second, boosting intra-African trade, including increasing trade between African countries by 50% by 2022.

According to expert Athanase Nsabumwami who spoke on “the overview on the ZLECAF and the positioning of the Burundian industry” when Burundi celebrated the World Industrialization Day for Africa, the Burundi signed the agreement to join ZLECAF in 2018, at the end of the 38th ordinary session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union, 54 out of 55 member countries of the African Union signed it. The agreement entered into force on May 30, 2019.

Among the signatory countries, 28 have deposited their tools of ratification. The Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union have ordered that trade in the ZLECAF begins on July 1, 2020.

The Minister of Trade, Industry and Tourism, Mr Jean Marie Niyokindi, announced that Burundi intends to sign the tools of ratification in early 2020. Industrialization being the best asset within ZLECAF, Mr. Jean Marie Niyokindi acknowledged that the positioning of Burundian industry to supply the African Continental Free Trade Area remains a challenge as long as the industry’s contribution to GDP remains low.

According to him, this industry suffers from a lack of energy, technology, and educated professional staff for example. However, he noted that the government was making efforts to produce more energy, in particular, and was committed to the development of the industrial sector.

He was speaking during World Africa Industrialization Day celebrated on December 3, 2019.

The expert Athanase Nsabumwami pointed out that the effective integration of Burundi into the ZLECAF is of strategic importance: it offers Burundi an alternative market of value-added goods and services. It offers an opportunity to expand into new markets in Central, West and North Africa outside of traditional markets.

However, the expert noted potential threats including the influx of substandard goods, the loss of customs revenue among others. These are threats which mitigate the subsidies, the compensations which could be granted; the Burundi Revenue Authority which has experience in monitoring goods crossing the border. Not to mention the settlement of disputes that reduces the risk of politicization.

For him, the entry into force of ZLECAF in 2020 will have a positive or negative impact on the Burundi’s economy “depending on how they plan to enter this vast free trade market of the world”.

Hence the need for Burundi to “imperatively set up a good system made up of experts, real industry professionals and academics well equipped on the issue of free trade which will help our national industrial enterprises to face the stakes of the African Continental Free Trade Area”.

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