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Exlusive Interview with Assome Aminata Diatta, Senegal’s director at the Ministry of Trade

Exlusive Interview with Assome Aminata Diatta, Senegal’s director at the Ministry of Trade

Senegal, just like the whole of Africa, has everything to gain from a free trade area, suggests Assome Aminata Diatta, Senegal’s International Trade Director. But better identification of growth sectors and more information for participants are still needed.

Is Senegal prepared for entering the AfCFTA?

It would perhaps be presumptuous to say that Senegal is entirely ready today. But the country is on its way. The negotiations on the creation of the free trade area were conducted with the close co-operation and full involvement of all ministerial departments. On this subject, I wish to pay tribute to the commitment of the Senegalese government. It mobilised enormous resources to enable experts from all ministerial departments directly or indirectly affected by the creation of this continental free trade area, to take part in the technical work – from the working group stage all the way to the negotiating forum.

All the ministries were represented in our extensive delegation. From the start of the negotiations, we had an impact assessment which evaluated the expected effects of creating the free trade area. It revealed that the forecast fall in tax receipts would be mitigated by the increase in Senegal’s exports, which ought to be far greater than the increase in its imports of African goods. Furthermore, a free trade area should improve the population’s well-being, and increase their purchasing power. As you know, it is household savings which, via the banking system, provide the financing for our countries’ economies. In this regard, the creation of the free trade area might also stimulate very significant beneficial effects for Senegal.

How do we bring together all participants? The debates we have attended throw up a great many questions, suggesting information is not getting through… How do we disseminate this new culture to the whole population, so that the Senegalese are aware of the issues involved in the free trade area?

What AfroChampions has done already represents a first step. Previously, information only came from government and didn’t get through very well. Now, through the AfroChampions initiative, the private sector has launched a wide-ranging awareness-raising campaign. It ought to help ensure that more people now listen to us. Of course, several meetings had already been organised at the national level. Senegal’s negotiating positions had been laid down by the international trade negotiations committee. This committee would meet the day before every planned negotiations meeting. Its members were drawn from government, the private sector and civil society.

In 2017, we also organised a national consultation on the continental free trade area. We have also asked to meet business organisations, in order to discuss these questions with them, sector by sector. For the next phase, we made need to consider more interactive debates – perhaps even on television – to heighten awareness still further among all stakeholders, and to better prepare them for what’s going to happen.

Can we really say that this will be like an electric shock for Senegal? What will the impact be?

Yes, and this shock therapy is already under way.
We see ever greater awareness among all participants of the importance of the African market to Senegal. Formerly, Senegal would explore primarily European or Asian markets and would neglect the African market, from a marketing and commercial point of view, even though this market could absorb the entirety of the country’s exports. The free trade area is going to open up a bigger market to us, since our current exports on the continent are concentrated in too few countries. That situation restricts our opportunities and might even constitute a threat to the survival of our exports.

What is the current Senegalese offer?

Policies enable this offer to be developed. They are specifically to give support to the new export openings that the free trade area is going to offer, while also encouraging local production.

Have you identified some Senegalese champions?

Our biggest exports to the African continent, in volume terms, are products such as cigarettes, cement and certain processed agri-foods, like broths. Exports of these goods within Africa are on the increase.

In addition to manufactured products, we export our fish stocks. However, we wish to further develop the services sector, which today is already in a dominant position in the economy, at around 59% of our GDP. We export a lot of services, particularly communications and business process services. A free trade area gives us the opportunity to boost this sector even more. One of the major challenges we face is being able to carry out studies of the different service sectors. We have done it for some but not for all. We have got to fill this gap, because we have engaged in a dynamic strategy to promote all our service sectors.

It seems the moment has come for Africa to leave its inertia behind and adopt operating synergies. But here, too, there are huge uncertainties…

Yes, you are right, there are major uncertainties, but I believe that the time has come for Africa to industrialise. It is estimated that manufactured products constitute 43% of the trade in goods between African countries, whereas they only represent 13% of our trade with the rest of the world. We are all convinced that a country cannot have sustainable development without industrialising. Today, the continent must get to its feet. With this AfroChampions private sector initiative, we have taken a major step forward.

AfroChampions has succeeded in something that we have never managed to achieve at ministerial level – the participation of more than 30 private sector representatives from every country in the free trade area. That’s a first! It is imperative that we support this initiative, to ensure that this awareness-raising extends beyond the private sector alone, and beyond Dakar, as well. We must not neglect the private sector in the regions. We have to reach as many people as possible if we are to make the continental free trade area a development tool for the continent. The task is far from easy, but I believe in it. I believe in Africa and I know that Africa can develop Africa. 

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Written by African Business Magazine

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