Knowledge is power

Cham Etienne Bama sheds light on the Impact of the AfCFTA Guided Trade Initiative (GTI) in Cameroon

Cameroon is one of the founding state parties of the Guided Trade Initiative launched on October 7, 2022 in Accra, Ghana. Cham Etienne Bama, the Country Director for Cameroon and Gabon under the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, as well as a Member Board of Directors for the African Region under the Institute of Export and International Trade sheds light on the progress and impact of the AfCFTA GTI in Cameroon.

What is Cameroon's export readiness under the GTI?

“So far, so good.” according to Cham, thanks to the Committees introduced to oversee the process.

A committee of the Guided Trade Initiative for Cameroon was established by the Cameroon National Shipment Council with a mandate to mobilise the private sector to trade under the AFCFTA Guided Trade Initiative and share key information to assist businesses to make informed decisions within the framework of the AFCFTA. To give businesses an even greater head start, a series of capacity building exercises were also carried out with port authorities and business organisations at different levels, to ensure all parties were equipped with the relevant information to navigate the GTI collectively.

“In December last year, the first capacity building exercise was conducted to bring together SMEs that are already exporting in or out of Africa to be able to direct their existing export into the provincial trade regime of the African Continental Free Trade Area.”

Challenges faced in Implementing the GTI in Cameroon

Production capacity and lack of finance emerged as the main challenges faced by businesses looking to trade under the GTI in Cameroon.

“We have SMEs that are producing excellent products that are demanded on the continent, but they are limited by quantity. You know, when it comes to cross-border trade, you need to ship in large quantities so that you are able to generate profit and be able to assure continuity in the targeted market. For them to produce massively, they also need finance.”

Access to Information is also a significant problem when it comes to trade under the GTI in Cameroon. Information is not readily available, and in instances where it is available, the technical jargon is not friendly to the layman. 

In addition, logistic hurdles serve as a hindrance for businesses wishing to trade in Cameroon.

“You need local logistics. You need local warehouses. You need local lorries to be able to distribute. You need to know who is distributing what in which region, and what are their quantities?”

Lessons learnt

The process of trading under the GTI has not been without its challenges for Florence’s business. Notably, in terms of harmonisation and certification of standards, a necessary step for those operating in the food industry. 

“When you have your certificate of origin in Ghana, you comply with standards in Ghana, and when you take it to Kenya, you have to adapt by the Kenya Food and Drug department, so these are the challenges we face, but we have to overcome them and tell the policy makers what we want. I was in Cape Town, South Africa in April 2023, and one of the panel discussions touched on regulating businesses and standardisation and I spoke about this with the policymakers. If we put in the work, we will make it and yes, challenges will come, but it’s about how you position yourself that helps you overcome the challenges.”

Lessons learnt

Cham calls for long-sightedness when it comes to businesses seeking to reap the rewards of the Agreement

“It’s a medium to long term project. The immediate issues that are supposed to be addressed to me is policy alignment.”
He also calls for governments to start looking at incentives for the private sector to increase productive capacity and for the Government to introduce reforms and incentives that will enable the private sector to deliver.Cham cites the Special Economic Zones Concept as an incentive that has worked in some parts of Africa.
“The Special Economic Zones Development Concept has proven to be a real success story and countries or state parties of the AfCFTA should capitalise on it.”

“The impact of the AfCFTA is that there is momentum. There is high momentum, especially from women owned businesses, to take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area.I would like to assure other fellow African countries that it is time for us to move forward.”

Final thoughts on the initiative

“For me, it’s a great opportunity for Africans to test the system to see how this is going to work.”