Pan African Connection
Bringing Literacy, Education and Development to disadvantaged communities across Africa
Free trade is a positive development for people and nations, it can help promote greater
understandings between parties, speed economic gains, lead to the production of better products at a
lesser cost across many borders, and it has provided a path for economic gains for its participant
But once again, its prerequisites are sound knowledge, information and the capacities to take
advantage of opportunities.
We do know however, that free trade is not quite free of encumbrances and handicaps, ingrained
interests (politically sensitive areas) have managed to quell a barrier free unsubsidized agricultural
sector that would help African producers. However at this time, such barrier free trading in agricultural
products would mainly have helped commercial, large scale producers and not subsistence farmers.
The missing links for them to take advantage are: governance issues, information, sound knowledge
practices and access to finances.
In short free trade is beneficial to rural Africa, but local gains will only happen as these communities are
empowered to take advantage of opportunities; without that the tendency is for free trade to only make
vulnerable communities more dependent and increasingly, as the effects of climate change accelerate,
even more vulnerable.
At the macro scale, African governments have to be vigilant that they do not sellout the small producers
in the contested areas of agriculture at the World Trade Organization (WTO). Regional agreements on
trade such as Southern Africa Development community (SADC), Common Market for East and Southern
Africa (COMESA) and others do promote freer trade amongst African nations, but work remains to be
done to decrease transit times at border crossings and needless to say there is tremendous need to
increase the network of roads across the continent and bring down the cost or transport that will also
help small scale producers. There is a way forward on all this issues for those interested.