Africa-Europe Week 2022: Transforming Borderlands from Pathways to Frontiers of Prosperity under the African Continental Free Trade Area

Posted April 19, 2022

Image: Aisha Jemila Daniels/UNDP

Report on the virtual side event jointly organized by UNDP, UNICEF and UN Women on 16 February 2022

On the margins of the Africa-Europe Week 2022, this virtual side event explored the pivotal importance of transforming borderlands from pathways to frontiers of prosperity within the AfCFTA context . Participants comprised representatives of governments, Regional Economic Communities, civil society, private sector organizations, as well as community mobilization and sector advocacy groups.

The 2022 AU-EU Summit aimed to lay the foundation for a renewed and deeper AU-EU partnership based on mutual interests, including with regards to building greater prosperity on both continents through an ambitious Africa-Europe Investment Package.

The objective to achieve inclusive, sustainable and equitable prosperity will be greatly facilitated by the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)[1], which, once ratified by all 55 Member States of the African Union, will foster regional integration in a market of over 1.2 billion people across the continent.[2] This is particularly important given the diverse development context in the African continent and, notably, the challenges and opportunities presented in borderlands.

The AfCFTA is being implemented alongside the commitment by African countries to global trading systems. Within this landscape, the EU remains a major trade partner for the continent and has continued to provide expertise, technical and financial support to advance Africa’s behind the border Agenda. By addressing the fragmentation of African economies, the AfCFTA could attract or create new business opportunities for international investors, including from the EU.

Coherent trade deals between AfCFTA and extra-AfCFTA partners could enable positioning of most competitive African economies as gateways to the EU markets. In the meantime, integrated African markets can support building wide-reaching regional value chains that help African businesses produce towards EU markets. In the long run, the AfCFTA – if upgraded into a customs union – could become a cornerstone for an AU-EU free trade agreement.[3]

How can we ensure gains from these promising developments are passed onto marginalized groups, such as small players and borderland communities who are pivotal in cross-border trading landscapes and remain important to sustaining inclusive growth in Africa? This requires concerted engagement among various stakeholders to discuss and design practical solutions to realize a trade integration agenda that yields inclusive benefits.  

The high-level panel was chaired by Urmila Sarkar, Senior Adviser on Programmes, GenU/UNICEF, and keynote speakers included Raymond Gilpin, Chief Economist, UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa; Demitta Gyang, Senior Advisor, Customs/Head, Cooperation and Transit, AfCFTA Secretariat; and H.E. Hans Henric Lundquist, Ambassador of Sweden to Ethiopia and Permanent Representative of Sweden to the African Union. This section of the side event explored practical measures and experiences towards transforming borderlands into centres of prosperity.

The second part of the event was facilitated by Komi Tsowou, AfCFTA Regional Adviser, UNDP, and featured the following speakers: Betty Milimo, Secretary, Cross Border Traders Association, Livingstone, Zambia; Hon. Abla Dzifa Gomashie, Member of Parliament for Ketu South Constituency, Aflao Border, Ghana; Mehjabeen Alarakhia, Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Policy Specialist –Women’s Economic Empowerment, UN Women; and Bruce Byiers, Head of Programme, African Economic Integration, European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM).

The discussions explored practical measures and experiences towards transforming borderlands into centres of prosperity. The following recommendations emerged from the discussions:

  • Identify essential products traded by women and SMEs in borderlands and prioritize them for tariff removal and process simplification.
  • Promote the establishment of simplified trade regimes (STRs) for small businesses under the AfCFTA, drawing on existing initiatives across the continent. This will go a long way in supporting businesses operating at the borderlands. 
  • Enhance entrepreneurship skills for small businesses at the borderlands and increase their participation in regional value chains.
  • Expand the structure of the formal sector to cover ­­­­activities operating in the informal sector.
  • Invest in efforts to minimize frictions in borderland areas to promote cross-border trade.
  • Utilize the gender equality objectives in the AfCFTA as a mechanism to treat women as producers, workers, consumers and traders.
  • Take an integrated approach to implementing trade agreements, coordinating policy, infrastructure and investments towards benefitting borderlands areas.
  • Support access to finance for cross-border traders.
  • Promote digitalization to address challenges in payments, currency conversion and market access for cross-border traders.


[1] Tariffs dismantlement under the Agreement Establishing the AfCFTA started on 1st January 2021.

[2] Assessing Regional Integration in Africa IX: Next Steps for the African Continental Free Trade Area”. ECA, AU, AfDB and UNCTAD.

[3] See ECDPM brief on What does the AfCFTA mean for an EU-Africa trade agreement? Available online at https://ecdpm.org/publications/what-does-the-afcfta-mean-for-an-eu-africa-trade-agreement/ .