The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), due to launch in January 2021, is likely to be a watershed for African regional and international agri-food trade, a new report has found.
The AfCFTA will be one of the largest free trade areas in the world since the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO), covering a market of more than 1.2 billion people and up to US$3 trillion in combined GDP. The agreement also creates the opportunity to increase intra-African trade by more than 50 per cent, adding an estimated US$76 billion in income to the rest of the world.
“Lagging far behind other major regions of the world like the EU in terms of trade between individual countries, the African Union and its member states have made a commitment to foster the links between domestic markets across the continent” said Ousmane Badiane, co-chair of the Malabo Montpellier Panel, which authored the report.
“This new trade deal comes at an opportune time for the continent to support fast-transforming economies and meet a surging domestic demand fueled by a rapidly growing population and urban middle class.”
The trade area comes into force as the Africa population continues to grow, rising from 1.2 billion people to an estimated 2.2 billion by 2050, creating exponential demand. Yet the continent already relies on food and agricultural imports worth approximately US$72 billion per year, growing by 3.6 percent each year of late.
And in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, estimates show that Africa’s trade volumes are projected to decrease by eight per cent for exports and about 16 per cent for imports during 2020.
Agricultural experts at the Malabo Montpellier Panel analyzed the potential opportunities for African national governments and its eight regional economic communities to trade more effectively in this new paradigm, including ways to leverage informal cross-border trade. Informal trade accounts for 30 to 40 per cent of total trade within the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and as much as 86 per cent of Uganda’s official exports.
The Panel’s recommendations include improving information and data on crossborder trade, particularly on informal cross-border trade, for instance data on its scale, quality of products, and patterns of trade flows. This would support simplifying regulations, providing training on food hygiene, enhancing access to finance, and addressing entrepreneurship skills.
“Many of those reliant on cross-border trade for their livelihoods are women, who have been disproportionately affected by restrictions, border closures and curfews enforced due to Covid-19, alongside gender-based discrimination and violence,” said Ishmael Sunga, member of the Malabo Montpellier Panel and Chief Executive Officer of the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU).
“Once the AfCFTA is in place, wages for skilled and unskilled women are expected to rise by up to four per cent by 2035, through new employment opportunities across the agriculture value chain.”
The report outlines how to address tariff and nontariff barriers, and how to improve and expand infrastructure, for instance by addressing cumbersome customs procedures, roadblocks, subsidies, and technical barriers such as sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) rules.
New digital solutions can help, such as introducing radio frequency identification (RFID) or microchipping for tracking livestock, or the digital storage and exchange of safety certificates for easy and quick transmission across countries.
The report also provides examples of how to enhance value chain competitiveness and strengthen crisis preparedness and resilience, with emphasis placed on those food products that are of high value and contribute to improved nutrition at the same time.
This calls for investments into the design and development of technologies that improve both the quantity and quality of food. Furthermore, the provision of training facilities needs to be enhanced to expand access to opportunities for skill development and innovation capacity along the value chain.
“Rule-based open trade is essential for an efficient and sustainable African food system, and keeps food prices more stable, which is good for producers and consumers” said Joachim von Braun, co-chair of the Malabo Montpellier Panel.
“The next ambition can be a fair and deep trade partnership between the African Union and the European Community.”
Every year, between 10 and 12 million young Africans enter the job market, vying for one of only about 3.1 million jobs created. Although agriculture and informal sectors are already the highest employers on the continent, they are likely to accelerate employment creation as the demand for food across the continent rises.
“As mechanization and digitalization expand across food systems, new entrepreneurship opportunities – beyond the farm – will emerge in the agri-food sector, creating the potential for high-quality, sustainable jobs across Africa,” said Debisi Araba, member of the Malabo Montpellier Panel member and managing director of the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF).
The Panel drew on the experiences of Africa’s existing regional trading blocs, such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), including governance systems, institutional policy innovations, and programmatic interventions.
New WEF ESG initiative looks to improve socioeconomic conditions in Northern Central America
The World Economic Forum announced a new initiative in three Central American countries that will support the private sector apply Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics and better environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting to improve local socioeconomic conditions and environmental resilience.
The announcement was made at events convened by the Forum with CentraRSE in Guatemala, COHEP in Honduras and Fundemas in El Salvador. These were attended by leaders from the public and private sector, civil society and international organizations who discussed the benefits and opportunities of implementing structured ESG reporting metrics, practices and global corporate trends. National and regional efforts and best practices were also showcased.
The Measuring Stakeholder Capitalism initiative has identified a set of 21 core and 34 expanded universal metrics and disclosures drawn from existing standards. The metrics and disclosure seek to improve how companies measure and demonstrate their performance against environmental, social and governance indicators and consistently track their positive contributions towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Strengthening sustainability credentials and building the capacity to report this information will represent a significant advantage for businesses and the economy as a whole, particularly to attract foreign investment and integrate into regional and global value chains.
“Amid an increasingly challenging context confronted with overlapping global crises, public-private collaboration and the decisive action of local leadership are even more necessary to improve economic, social, environmental and governance conditions. All sectors must work together to build a prosperous and resilient ecosystem, offering hope and real opportunities for people in the region to develop their potential at home,” said Marisol Argueta, Head of Latin America at the World Economic Forum.
The initiative is a response The initiative is a response to US Vice President Kamala Harris’s Call to Action, which calls on businesses and social enterprises to promote economic opportunities for people in the region as part of a comprehensive strategy to address the root causes of migration. Vice President Harris has announced a total of more than $3.2 billion in new commitments to the region in coordination with the Partnership for Central America since the effort was launched in May 2022.
“As we look to multi-sector approaches to solve the social challenges facing our communities globally, the World Economic Forum’s ESG framework provides a structure for businesses to drive greater economic development. Working with public and private sector partners, this can translate into quality jobs, environmental protections and better lives for families,” said Jonathan Fantini-Porter, Executive Director of the Partnership for Central America.
The areas of focus, led by the Partnership for Central America (PCA), intend to support the region’s long-term development through digital and financial inclusion, food security and climate-smart agriculture; climate adaptation and clean energy; education and workforce development; and public health access. The planned ESG metrics and corporate reporting activities also aim to motivate local leaders to take measurable action on their contributions to enhancing socioeconomic conditions and environmental resilience in the region.
Based on existing standards, this framework provides a set of metrics that can be reported by all companies, regardless of industry or region. These metrics also offer comparability, which is particularly important for creating a systemic and globally accepted set of common standards for reporting corporate sustainability performance.
As part of the activities carried out in Central America, the Guatemalan company, Grupo Mariposa announced the adoption of the global metrics framework promoted by the World Economic Forum (Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics) and declared its commitment to include them in future reporting cycles. Grupo Mariposa is the first company in Central America to incorporate the metrics in its reports.
‘Immensely bleak’ future for Afghanistan unless massive human rights reversal
The international community must dramatically increase efforts to urge the de facto authorities in Afghanistan to adhere to basic human rights principles, a group of UN independent rights experts said on Friday.
“The future is immensely bleak for Afghans if more is not done by the international community to ensure the Taliban changes its modus operandi and complies with its human rights obligations,” they said in a statement.
The experts recalled that following the Taliban takeover last August, they had appealed for the international community to take “stringent actions” to protect Afghans from violations such as arbitrary detention, summary executions, internal displacement, and unlawful restrictions on their human rights.
Failure to deliver
“One year later, we reiterate this call,” they said. “Despite making numerous commitments to uphold human rights, the Taliban have not only failed to deliver on their promises, they have also reversed much of the progress made in the past two decades”.
Moreover, the humanitarian and economic crisis in Afghanistan, which has already caused immeasurable harm to millions, shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, it is predicted to worsen, they added, partly due to the interruption of international assistance and the freezing of Afghan assets abroad.
Attack on women and girls
The experts said the Taliban have committed a “plethora” of human rights violations, with the virtual erasure of women and girls from society, as well as their systematic oppression, being particularly egregious.
“Nowhere else in the world has there been as wide-spread, systematic and all-encompassing an attack on the rights of women and girls – every aspect of their lives is being restricted under the guise of morality and through the instrumentalization of religion. Discrimination and violence cannot be justified on any ground”.
Regrettably, there is little indication that the human rights situation is turning a corner, they said.
“Indeed, the daily reports of violence – including extra-judicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, heightened risks of exploitation faced by women and girls including for the purposes of child and forced marriage, and a breakdown in the rule of law – gives us no confidence that the Taliban has any intention of making good on its pledge to respect human rights.”
Citizens now have no means for redress as the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission has been abolished, along with other independent oversight mechanism and institutions.
The administration of justice has also been compromised. The applicable law is unclear, and judges and other officials have been replaced, which has especially affected women.
Peace prospects dim
The experts pointed to other violations, such as the curtailing of press freedom, and the rise in attacks on religious and ethnic minorities, some of which were claimed by the ISIL-KP terrorist group. They also and highlighted how journalists, activists, academics and artists have either left the country, quit their work, or gone into hiding.
Furthermore, in the absence of an inclusive and representative government, prospects for long-lasting peace, reconciliation and stability will remain minimal.
“The de facto authorities seek international recognition and legitimacy. Regrettably, they continue to abuse almost all human rights standards while refusing to offer even a modicum of respect for ordinary Afghans, in particular women and girls,” said the experts.
Most recently, the Taliban appeared to have been harbouring the leader of Al Qaeda. Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed last week in a US drone strike, which the experts said also raises concerns of a violation of international law.
“Until it demonstrates significant steps towards respecting human rights, including by immediately reopening girls’ secondary schools and restoring their access to a quality education, they should not be on a path to recognition.”
Action by the authorities
In addition to honouring their international obligations, the experts have called for the Taliban to fully implement human rights standards, including respecting the rights of women and girls to education, employment and participation in public life.
The de facto authorities should immediately open all secondary schools for girls, and lift restrictions on women’s mobility, attire, employment and participation. The rights of minority communities must also be upheld.
The Taliban are also urged to “respect the general amnesty and immediately stop all reprisals against members of the former government’s security forces, other officials and civil society, especially human rights defenders, including women”.
Furthermore, human rights monitors and humanitarians should be allowed free, unhindered access throughout the country, including to sensitive locations such as detention facilities.
They also called for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, bar associations, and other relevant unions, to immediately be reinstated and allowed to operate freely and independently.
The experts also outlined steps the international community should take.
They include insuring civilians have equitable access to humanitarian aid, and supporting ongoing initiatives by Afghan women towards a strategy to promote the rights of women and girls, with clear benchmarks and expectations.
Countries are also urged to maintain and/or adopt sustained and robust humanitarian exemptions within sanctions regimes to ensure compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law.
“Such measures should be fit for purpose, ensure that sanctions measures do not interfere with protected humanitarian action under international law, and function to remediate the current humanitarian crises and to prevent sanctions from continuing to exacerbate the humanitarian human rights crises being faced by the Afghan people,” they said.
Role of UN experts
The 20 experts who issued the statement were all appointed by the UN Human Rights Council.
They include Richard Bennett, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, and other Special Rapporteurs who monitor and report on issues such as the situation of human rights defenders worldwide.
These independent experts receive their mandates from the Council and operate in their individual capacity. They are neither UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
IAEA: ‘Very alarming’ conditions at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant
The situation at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has deteriorated rapidly to the point of becoming “very alarming,” Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi warned the Security Council on Thursday afternoon.
“These military actions near such a large nuclear facility could lead to very serious consequences,” Mr. Grossi said at the meeting requested by Russia, which was marked by resounding calls to allow the Agency’s technical experts to visit the area amid mounting safety concerns.
IAEA has been in frequent contact with both Ukraine and Russia to ensure that it has the clearest picture possible of the evolving circumstances.
Europe’s largest nuclear plant shelled
Providing an overview, the IAEA chief said that on 5 August, the Zaporizhzhia plant – Europe’s largest – was subjected to shelling, which caused several explosions near the electrical switchboard and a power shutdown.
One reactor unit was disconnected from the electrical grid, triggering its emergency protection system and setting generators into operation to ensure power supply.
The senior UN official said that there was also shelling at a nitrogen oxygen station. While firefighters had extinguished the blaze, repairs must still be examined and evaluated.
No immediate threat
He said that the preliminary assessment of IAEA experts indicate that there is no immediate threat to nuclear safety as a result of the shelling or other military actions.
However, “this could change at any moment,” Mr. Grossi cautioned.
He recalled his recent address to the ongoing Tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, where he outlined seven indispensable pillars that are critical for nuclear safety and security.
These included aspects dealing with the physical integrity of the plant, off-site power supply, cooling systems, and emergency preparedness measures.
“All these pillars have been compromised if not entirely violated at one point or another during this crisis,” flagged the IAEA chief.
“Any nuclear catastrophe would be unacceptable and thus preventing it should be our overarching goal”.
He asked both sides to cooperate with the UN atomic agency.
“This is a serious hour, a grave hour, and the IAEA must be allowed to conduct its mission in Zaporizhzhia as soon as possible”.
Presenting his case, the Russian delegate said Ukrainian forces used heavy artillery against Zaporizhzhia on 5 August, shelling the plant during a shift change to intimidate staff – their own citizens.
He upheld that on 6 August, those forces attacked with cluster munitions, and on 7 August, a power surge occurred, blaming.
The Russian Ambassador blamed Kyiv for refusing to sign a trilateral document issued by IAEA, stressing that Moscow strictly complies with the IAEA Director General’s seven principles.
In turn, Ukraine’s representative said that the withdrawal of Russian troops and return of the station to the legitimate control of Ukraine is the only way to remove the nuclear threat at Zaporizhzhia.
The Ukrainian Ambassador insisted on the need to send a mission to the site and has negotiated modalities with the Agency.
“Despite their public declarations, the occupiers have resorted to manipulations and unjustified conditions for the site visit,” he said.
Given the militarization of the site by Russian armed forces, such a mission must include qualified experts in military aspects.
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