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Southern Africa experts call for accelerated action to eradicate poverty, inequality and boost intra-Africa trade

7 November, 2023
Southern Africa experts call for accelerated action to eradicate poverty, inequality and boost intra-Africa trade

Gaborone, Botswana, 7 November 2023 (ECA) - Gaborone, Botswana, 6 November 2023, (ECA) - The Ad Hoc Expert Group (AEGM) organised back to back with the 29th Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts (ICSOE) of Southern Africa meeting has recommended swift action to accelerate the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in order to tackle poverty and inequality in the region.

The AEGM was organised by the Economic Commision for Africa and the Government of Botswana from 6-7 November 2023 in Gaborone, Botswana. The meeting discussed the status of poverty and inequality in Southern Africa; leveraging the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) for poverty and inequality reduction in Southern Africa; and Regional Integration in Southern Africa – Accelerating the implementation of the AfCFTA in Southern Africa building on the acquis of the RECs FTAs.

Opening the AEGM, Ellen Richard-Madisa, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Trade and Industry, Botswana, underscored the urgency of eradicating poverty and inequality in a region which is one of the poorest on the continent

Ms. Richard-Madisa said the AfCFTA is a potent route towards economic diversification and structural transformation and can support growing value chains through the opening of a larger market across Africa. Citing the case of Botswana where the government has allocated substantial budgetary resources towards poverty and inequality eradication, she advised that through its new Wealth Creation, the country has focused on supporting micro and small enterprise projects in agriculture, housing, women empowerment projects and education sectors to create employment.

The AEGM considered commissioned studies on the three themes and adopted policy recommendations on reducing poverty and inequality;  facilitating intra continental trade and on fostering regional integration to accelerate the implementation of the AfCTA.

Ms. Eunice Kamwendo Director of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Sub Regional Office for Southern Africa, highlighted that the region has continued to grapple with poverty, inequality and multiple vulnerabilities, performing poorly in all metrics of poverty and inequality.

“Southern Africa is the poorest region on the African continent both in terms of monetary and multidimensional measures of poverty, with about half (45.1 per cent) of its population living in extreme poverty,”, Ms. Kamwendo, warning that poverty was threatening the attainment of most Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) in a region where poverty and inequality have been further exacerbated by the triple crises of COVID-19, climate change and global geopolitical conflicts.

She noted that Southern Africa is the most unequal of all regions in the world both in terms of income and wealth and that seven of the ten most unequal countries in the world in terms of income are found in the region.

“Full implementation of the AfCFTA, ensuring the initiative does not merely remain on paper, is a powerful instrument to propel inclusive development and ameliorate poverty and inequality in the region,” said Ms. Kamwendo.

Research by the ECA indicates that continental integration through the regional Economic Communities - Free Trade Areas could lift more than 30 million people out of extreme poverty and raise incomes by 7 per cent by 2035.

The Southern African region needs to promote inclusive economic growth through the diversification of economies and value addition to natural resources before export. Poverty and inequality could also be tackled through strengthening and expanding social protection programmes and addressing social exclusion by promoting gender equality and empowerment of historically disadvantaged groups.

Mr. Jorge Fernando Jairoce, 28th ICSOE Chair and  Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Industry and Trade, Republic of Mozambique, reflecting on the work of the Bureau of the 28th Session of the ICSOE, noted that Southern Africa member States had been assisted by the Secretariat in promoting inclusive industrialisation and  towards the implementation of the AfCFTA agreement, in developing local content thresholds and on strengthening their capacities in trade statistics.

The Southern Africa region must focus on job creation to reduce poverty, hunger and inequality, said Mr. Fernando Jairoce, calling on countries to accelerate industrialization to take advantage of the AfCFTA.

Speaking at the same meeting, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Botswana, Zia Choudhury said the multidimensional nature of poverty, Southern Africa's paradoxical high poverty rates, and the structural causes of poverty demand unwavering attention by all stakeholders.

Mr. Choudhury was emphatic that regional integration through RECs FTAs was important for promoting peace, stability and economic growth in Southern Africa and thus contribute to addressing poverty and inequality.

“The fight against poverty, inequality, and the promotion of regional economic integration in Southern Africa is not just a commitment; it is an urgent and collective responsibility, " Mr. Choudhury said.  “Together, we can make a tangible difference in the lives of millions of regional citizens and drive positive change.”

Issued by:
The Sub-Regional Office for Southern Africa
UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)
P.O. Box 30647, Lusaka, Zambia.

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