“Africa must produce and export more technology”
LA TRIBUNE AFRIQUE – Faced with global upheavals and upheavals, the African continent must simultaneously increase its internal trade, its participation in world trade (3%) and develop its industries in order not to run out of products as it did during the health crisis. and the onset of the Russia-Ukraine conflict while adapting to climate change. Can this equation with several variables be solved? How do you coordinate all of this?
YUVAN BEEJADHUR – When it comes to trade, Africa was on a certain trajectory long before the arrival of Covid-19. For example, there was Afreximbank’s advocacy to improve intra-African trade and the vision presented by the African Union… The continent has been vulnerable to major global changes – namely, after the health crisis and the war in Ukraine. It is to reverse this trend that initiatives are proliferating amid the climate emergency. But talking about trade with the rest of the world introduces maritime transport. In the face of climate change, shipping will change, as well as the products produced by countries. Tanzania produces and exports avocados today, but there is no guarantee that they will still be able to do so easily tomorrow. We need to rethink the agricultural sector, which produces a lot of greenhouse gases [GES], to adapt it to climate change, because there will be more droughts, more cyclones, more tropical changes. Similarly, the African islands receive a large number of tourists today. But tomorrow, as we have seen in Pakistan, it can change from one day to the next. And the reason for this is climate change. According to the World Bank, for example, Mauritius will lose 7% of its GDP over the next forty years due to cyclones alone. There are similar statistics for different countries of the continent. These losses mean huge amounts. But trading can help reduce these costs.
This can be done if African countries can produce and market more of today’s and tomorrow’s technologies. In terms of ports, for example, we need it now Green ports. These are technologies that need to be developed. For that, we need to work on intellectual property issues like vaccines. What we experience during a health crisis teaches us. A few African countries had the money to buy the vaccine, but the exporting countries that concentrated production (India, China, Europe, USA) decided to impose supply restrictions overnight. Implications: African countries had to wait to get the vaccine, and we know what happened next. Despite the generosity of support from vaccine producing countries Covax object, meanwhile, families have been devastated by deaths recorded due to the spread of the coronavirus. This scenario should not be repeated for food.
Trade is good for the world, good for Africa. Our latest report on world trade and climate change shows that reducing tariffs on the production of green products (such as renewable energy) will not only create more jobs, but also reduce emissions, greenhouse gases (GHGs).
You mentioned sea trade earlier. Boats and ships powered by fossil fuels are the main emitters of CO2 at a time when rich countries are speaking almost unanimously to end the use of such polluting energy. How do you solve the problem at the WTO level?
The decarbonisation of shipping is the subject of much thought and research. 90% of world trade is done by sea. I think sea trade is just one issue in the grand scheme of climate change and GHG emissions. To answer this, the sector is trying to develop technologies to direct boats, ships and aircraft to certain renewable energies. It’s a bit like a discussion around everything Green Steel [acier vert], about different ways of making steel. It is an indispensable material, but how to produce it in an environmentally friendly way? Once again, the technological answer seems key to me.
There are many carbon schemes around the world: $1 per ton in Ukraine, up to $130 in Sweden, and perhaps $200 per ton in Norway by 2030. This makes trade perceptions more volatile and can create more tension. At the WTO, we are also looking at how we can harmonize carbon pricing standards. We are working more with the International Monetary Fund [FMI] and adapting our OECD methods and ideally having a carbon price.
At the same time, the application of the circular economy principles of world trade is a matter of being able to reduce the effects of the transportation of goods, if I may say so. Shipping players could do more to transport and market more green products. And at this time, the development of the blue economy is interesting.
Rather, you are an expert on the blue economy. How can the development of this sector help African countries to overcome the multidimensional challenge it faces?
The blue economy is a key theme that provides solutions for African countries, especially in the face of major future challenges such as climate change. But before talking about the billions of dollars needed, countries need to define the legal framework and ensure that they have the necessary knowledge in this area, especially in terms of information. In general, we know little about the contents of our oceans, and few countries have the necessary technical equipment for underwater research. Such structured databases are fundamental.
When I worked at the World Bank, I headed the economic and sector research group. We found that diversification is not so simple. If I take a country like Mauritius, we are not very far ahead in terms of complex products, that is, products that combine knowledge and growth, that combine value chains. It is above all a jeans industry that has flourished since the 1980s. That is why we exported jeans for men and women, while Germany exported cars and Switzerland sold medicines and advanced products to the world. It is therefore imperative that the African continent reflects and seizes opportunities, including in the context of the current crisis, because in reality whoever says crisis can also mean opportunity. African islands – not having all the underground resources that other countries on the continent are rich in – have had to look for supporting factors to develop. The lack of underground resources was therefore an opportunity to innovate.
How do you think our governments can approach this issue?
In terms of sustainable development, each country has its own strategy, and that’s a good thing. When we look at sustainable development sectors and touch on the blue economy, I would say that there are good examples: Seychelles, Mauritius, South Africa or Kenya and others. But in general, I think it would be important to clarify some points: the blue economy is not only about the sea; If we do not take care of forests, soil, irrigation and water within the territories, there will be no blue economy.
Other economic sectors have not done the planet any good, even if their growth has created prosperity. However, the link between the green economy and the blue economy has never been stronger than it is today. In addition to well-developed strategies, African countries need clearly defined action plans and well-trained leaders to drive these issues forward. In several countries on the continent, the blue economy is managed by a Ministry of Fisheries that sometimes lacks the necessary skills or funding. And we really need to change this mentality that fishermen or fishermen are poor people. It is this mentality that often causes this sector to die in our countries. However, at a time when people want more food, more seafood, fishing is absolutely strategic. Talking about fishing, in particular, means talking about national security, the depths of the sea, which are sensitive topics.
Moreover, the food crisis we are talking about now will undoubtedly exist, at least as long as there is a war in Ukraine. Therefore, I believe that plans and programs for regionalization of fisheries, aquaculture and small-scale fisheries management should be accelerated. This regionalization can facilitate the mobilization of investments in the blue economy, especially for small countries (geographically) and island states of the continent.