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The African Economic Research Consortium’s (AERC) plenary session of the 58th Biannual Research Workshop was held yesterday on a virtual platform, with calls to facilitate continent-wide unity on trade to accelerate the recovery agenda.

Speaking during the conference, Prof. Benedict Okey Oramah, President and Chairman of the Board of Directors, The African Export-Import Bank, noted that even after regional integration agreements and treaties, the African regional trade has not grown substantially as had been expected. Currently, intra-Africa trade stands at 15.4%, and Africa’s share of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) trade is estimated at 2.6%, despite accounting for 16.3% of the world’s population.

“It is essential for countries to reduce today’s debt burden promptly through economic reform, lowering the cost of financing, and debt restructuring on a case-by-case basis. The international community should also step-up efforts to improve debt restructuring processes, including the G20 Common Framework, to ensure that debt relief is delivered in a timely and efficient manner where it is needed”, he said.

The plenary session also noted some notable progresses in some sub-regions where integration in trade, finance and labor mobility is improving fast and acknowledged that harnessing the full benefits of Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreements and strengthening the regional integration and regional trade prospects are new avenues for exploiting the limitless opportunities.

Referencing the need to leverage on education to produce excellent research as a future goal for more focused impact, the AERC Executive Director Prof. Théophile Azomahou, encouraged the need to ensure that research is selective and conducted within respective thematic areas.

“Whilst education is inclusive, research should be trained and taught in a manner that encourages our young and upcoming researchers to be more deliberate in their methods by narrowing down topics to be as thematic as possible. This will help build knowledge in different areas of focus for policy makers and help shape solutions to our everyday problems,” he said.

Some of the notable steps that were discussed as possible solutions for mitigating these multiple shocks were investing in the transformation of African economies to reduce the unhealthy and credit-rating negative correlation between price and commodity price cycles, investing in the development of capital markets , closing infrastructure deficit especially in the power sector  to close the chronic electricity deficit which has been one of the greatest constraints to productivity growth and industrial output as well as increasing relevance and impact of AERC networks in the policy and development arenas, among others.

Other discussions touched on the fact that close to 60% of Africa’s GDP growth is explained by temporal, cyclical factors, but with large variance across countries. The recovery from the shock that is taking shape now runs the risk of being uneven, widening the differences within Africa itself and between Africa, and the rest of the world.

Additionally, in an economic sense, the productivity shocks on agriculture, food security and land productivity due to climate change cannot be taken lightly. There is evidence that points to increasing poverty and inequality induced by climate change and this is beyond the argument of marginal areas. The commitments by international development partners to finance the climate change initiatives are not coming forth as fast as expected to provide a stopgap to resource challenges in Africa. There are areas that can be harnessed with domestic resources, like creating shallow water wells for pastoralists that would minimize conflicts in those marginal areas.

The plenary session featured four presentations by eminent economists including: The Impact of the War in Ukraine on the Recovery and Resilience of African Economies by Dr. Hanan Morsy, Deputy Executive Secretary and Chief Economist, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Addis Ababa; Development Narratives and the Political Economy of Development in Sub-Saharan Africa by Prof. Stefan Dercon, Director, Center for the Study of African Economies and Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, United Kingdom; Accelerating Climate Action and Sustainable Development in Africa: Meeting the Financing Challenge by Dr. Amar Bhattacharya, Senior Fellow Brookings Institution, Washington DC, USA; and External Shocks and Fiscal Space for Climate-Resilient Development in Sub-Saharan Africa by Prof. Kevin Gallagher, Director, Global Policy Center, Boston University

Other distinguished panelist on the policy roundtable included: Prof. Amanda Guimbeau, University of Oxford and Fellow, Pembroke College, United Kingdom; Dr. Selma Karuaihe, Head and Senior Lecturer, Department of Agricultural Economics, Extension and Rural Development, University of Pretoria, South Africa; Dr. Paul Mpuga, Country Chief Economist, African Development Bank Group, and Prof. Amanda Guimbeau, Département d’économie, Universite de Sherbrooke, Canada.

The concurrent sessions and technical sessions of the workshop will start on Tuesday, 23 May 2023 to Monday, 29 May 2023. They will feature 80 presentations of research proposals, work in progress, final reports, and interim PhD thesis reports.

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