So,free trade or protectionism? Many themes in dichotomous. But, as always, there are nuances.The AU estimates that the FTAA will make it possible to increase intra-African trade by nearly 60% between now and 2022 and give a boost to all economies. On paper, however, Africa is a champion of regional integration with various regional groupings supposed to represent as many areas of free movement of people,goods and services.The DRC already occupies a special place at the continental level and in its sub-region given its geostrategic position, its size, the importance of its market, and the borders it shares with nine countries. It is part of COMESA, SADC, ECCAS, CEPGL and is considering joining the East African Community.
However, to some extent, these agreements have so far not resulted in a significant increase in trade among the signatory countries, and while the weaknesses are rooted in various factors, all point to the fact that the obstacles for the FTAA will be legion.First of all, from an infrastructure point of view. In the case of the DRC, as in many African countries, the trade routes inherited from colonialism are based on roads and railways developed in the past, on the one hand, for the export of minerals and other rubber to the former metropolis, and, on the other hand, for the import of manufactured goods. This is still today the model on which the national economy operates: the main communication routes allow raw materials to be taken out and finished products to be imported, and the lack of efficient infrastructure within the country limits both the potential for the development of a real domestic market and the potential to position and act asa real regional (and continental) hub.Then, to paraphrase UNCTAD economist BineswareeBolaky, recently interviewed by The Economist, the main question that African states should ask themselves is: “What can we trade among ourselves? ». From this point of view, the creation of added value appears tobe one of the prerequisites for balanced, mutually beneficial exchanges that create quality jobs.
A priori indeed, the opening of borders produces its benefits when it does not take place in the context of weakened economies, and when local industries are strong enough to face foreign competition, if not to allow the creation of regional value chains.Finally, because there is a need to define the “African” product. The Question is how local industries will be able to compete effectively and technologically if free trade translates,for multinationals already present - if not active - in Africa, into an even greater ability to penetrate the continental market.The issue of free trade and protectionism is undeniably central to the development of the DRC.Trade liberalization promises to be a driving force in developing the competitiveness and performance of African companies. But, to paraphrase Paul Krugman,the recent Nobel Prize winner, free trade should not be a “laissez-faire” area, without taking into account imperfect competition, intra-firm trade, economic geography, etc. The future will tell us more!