The AfCFTA will provide a number of opportunities for the Indian firms and investors to tap into a larger, unified, simplified and more robust African market. It is critical for India to view Africa not just as a destination for short-term returns but as a partner for medium and long-term economic growth. An important component affecting the volumes of trade with Africa is the “third-country fabric” provision. Various Asian countries’ traders and investors, including those from India, are reaching out to the African markets as a market of “choice”. This is often perceived as a way to indirectly take advantage of the preferential trade programmes offered to the African countries by the third parties. A case in point is the African growth and Opportunities Act of the US, under which some African countries are eligible to source raw materials from third countries like India and China, to make clothes and then export to US duty-free. Such provisions help to shield African industries such as textiles and apparel, which have benefitted from huge amounts of Indian and Chinese investments in African export processing zones. Therefore, to establish a long-term partnership with Africa, India should not target African markets only for its unilateral preferences granted by the third parties.
To mitigate the expected trade losses for the African countries resulting from the establishment of MRTAs, especially the RCEP, India and Africa must build a solid partnership to boost their bilateral trade and investment flows. To this end, India’s active support towards Africa’s ongoing continental integration efforts can serve as basis for negotiations aimed at reciprocal market access and investment opportunities. It is important to note that positive outcomes for the India-Africa trade and investment partnership are hinged on Africa having sufficiently integrated markets, enhanced regional and continental connectivity, and improved infrastructure facilities. These will, in turn, help the African countries to address the supply-side constraints, remove bottlenecks, and move up the regional value chains. The African Trade Policy Centre of the ECA and CII must continue to work closely to identify the sectors that offer opportunities for development in Africa in the context of AfCFTA reform. [The author: Abhishek Mishra; Related ATPC, CII study: Deepening Africa-India trade and investment partnership]