"One of the handicaps for African integration is trade. Intra-African trade is barely 3% in all African countries. This doesn't make sens. So, the Zlecaf is about pushing Africans to do trade with each other",he said during a panel arbitrated by Raymond Assoukou Krikpeu, local representative of WAEMU in Togo during the week of the private sector.
According to Minister Dussey, the Zlecaf arises from the will of African Union heads of State to enable African companies to fit in and do trade on the African continent.
But for there to be an intra-African business, he thinks that "there must be African companies and for there to be African companies, we need African industries".
It's beautiful, but where are we?
The operational phase of this zone is scheduled to start by 2020, July 1st and will result in the gradual dismantling of customs duties. Addressing the subject on a more technical angle, Dr. Stephane Akaya, economic adviser to the Togolese Prime Minister has highlighted some challenges related to the Zlecaf.
He first addressed the ability of the States to support themselves without tax revenues.
"If I take the case of Togo for example, we depend excessively on customs revenue. It means that we must already anticipate the drastic reduction in tax revenue because today, the distribution is 48% of internal taxation and 52% of customs duty. We must already think of how will we continue to ensure the internal development including infrastructure, social needs, schools, etc." he developped.
He then touched non-price competitiveness and price competitiveness before emphasizing the need to work on an African currency if one doesn't want to see companies outside Africa benefit more from the Zlecaf.
"On the non-price competitiveness, if we take Nigeria and Togo, they don't have the same populations whether in the global competitiveness of the work or the productivity of the agricultural sector, we don't have the same productivities. The risque is that we can lose our industrial fabric. So, we need an instrument to allow our companies upgrade and have the ability to do trade with others on the continent", insisted the economist.
"We cannot develop our economies on the basis of trade. The development of an economy is on the basis of industrialization. Our industrial fabric doesn't almost existent. We are praised for a market of one billion two hundred million people, but what do we have to sell as Togolese?" wondered Yves Badohu, vice president of employers, general director of Togo Food.
What will Togo win?
In response to all these concerns, the Minister of Commerce, Kodjo Adedze, tried to show that the Zlecaf is rather an opportunity.
"On 2020 July 1st, I'm not afraid. When you take the PND, just axis 2, this axis aims a paradigm shift.We will not continue to send our raw materials outside and the ministry is working on it, the traceability and quality rules, the industrial policy has recently been validated by the Council of Ministers, it is a set of packages that we are piloting at the level of the government so that our products can be competitive", he reassured.
For Togo, the potential benefits of the African Continental Free Trade erea include access to a wider regional market for products manufactured in Togo; improved conditions for creating regional value chains and integration with global value chains.
Also, Togolese consumers would have access to cheap imported products from other African countries, producers would take advantage of economies of scale and have access to cheaper raw materials. The challenges of overlapping and multiple trade agreements would be eliminated.
From the projects included in the National Development Plan and given Togo's export structure, the products identified as being the subject of an export promotion strategy are cotton, corn, cassava and its by-products, yam, rice, soybean, coffee, cocoa, fats and oil, vegetable crops, cement and other products to identify when new markets are available.
Alongside governments, the International Federation of Consular Chambers for Africa (FICA) is working with the African Union (AU) to put in place a document focused on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
"We need to be able to build the capacity of companies before they go to do trade in neighboring countries, they have to produce better, they have to be known, they must have financing, it is an entire ecosystem", said Ticha Virginie, president of FICA.
In a nutshell, much work remain to be done to effectively enable Togolese companies to face the comparative advantages of the industries of North Africa, South Africa, or East Africa.
"I think we have to be optimistic because the challenges are real, but at some point we should take our responsibilities, for you people those who are businessmen in Togo, you have to think of more quality than quantity. With a focus on quality, our products will not be sold for the seven million Togolese we are, but it will be sold throughout the area.This is also the positive side of the thing", suggested Minister Robert Dussey.
The task is arduous but remains glorious.