Friday, July 1 2022

There is much to be hopeful with the dawn of the historic African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and its promise to diversify economies, reduce dependence on exported goods and boost the regional trade. However, its success in stimulating sustainable development will depend on the priority it gives to “planetary health”.

It has often been assumed that planetary health – a concept and domain covering the health of humans and the environments on which they depend – might be an afterthought of development. In a world currently in the throes of a pandemic, that assumption has crumbled. The pandemic has been blamed for the first major setback in poverty reduction in Africa in two decades. It has also led to funds being diverted to crisis responses, thus compromising the assets of regional development.

“The AfCFTA’s success in driving sustainable development will depend on the priority it places on ‘planetary health’.”

With these challenges in mind, it is easy to make the connection between thriving pan-African trade and the need for equitable access to life-saving vaccines, treatments and medicines, especially with this pandemic. Indeed, the global economic cost of not vaccinating developing countries against the pandemic has been estimated at 9 trillion dollars. However, what remains unknown is the extent to which trade in sectors other than health still impacts health.

The relationship between trade and health

Africa is a young continent full of potential, but also the region of the world with the shortest life expectancy, due to a synergy between infections, injuries and non-communicable diseases. Changing environments and socio-economic pressures make it harder to access fresh food, live in sanitary conditions, move around without risks such as crime, injury and pollution, and exercise safely. This increases the risks of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease, which in turn increase the risk of infections such as tuberculosis and die because of the current pandemic, and vice versa.

Trade has an important role to play in this deadly synergy. Without adequate accountability mechanisms, business environments encourage sales and marketing of commodities that contribute greatly to GDP while neglecting their impacts on planetary health. For example, while tobacco growing is often seen as a source of income and tax revenue, the economic losses it causes in the form of illness, death and injury from smoking, fire hazards and to the environmental damage and deforestation go without counting.

“Trade should be used to create healthier and more sustainable development.”

This omission jeopardizes the health of the very population that should be driving sustainable development. Currently, almost half of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is considered hypertensive. Many of these people will leave the workforce prematurely due to illness or death, which in turn will compromise the well-being of their families. In addition, communities face uncontrolled health risks related to industrial activities, including trade externalities such as harmful exposure to sootmarketing practices such as tobacco advertising and ultra-processed fast foods to children, and deadly working conditions such as the extraction of raw materials used for consumer products.

The role of trade in sustainable development

The proof of the AfCFTA will be in its implementation. Trade should be used to create healthier and more sustainable development. Currently, the AfCFTA agreement It is worth noting that exceptions to tariff relief will be applied to activities that violate anti-dumping laws. It also affirms the right of countries to protect human, animal and plant life or health. The interpretation of these provisions will depend on its governing body which includes an Assembly, a Council of Ministers, a Committee of Senior Trade Officials and the Secretariat. This governing body will have to firmly maintain planetary health as a priority among a host of well-funded competing pressures.

The AfCFTA also plans to start by prioritizing the transport, tourism and communications sectors. These goals could be beneficial through investments in sustainable multimodal transport systems, for example. To do so, implementing parties will need to specify the products and services in each of these sectors with detrimental effects on planetary health for which tariff relief will not apply, while prioritizing the creation markets for those who add value.

Proactive industry standards and funding tools have been used to create incentives in areas of the economy where growth is desired, for example, by encouraging the creation and distribution of coronavirus vaccines. These tools can be used to shape markets for healthy and sustainable infrastructure, goods and services.

There is also a role for investors, who will undoubtedly benefit from the opportunity for more liberal trade. It would be prudent on their part to do due diligence on their portfolio companies, to determine the impact of their investments. This should involve assessing not just the return on their investments, but the broader impacts of their portfolio companies on the health of their workforce throughout the supply chain, public health and health. ‘environment.

The technical support provided to industries, particularly micro and medium-sized industries, must give priority to pan-African research and innovation, user-driven solutions not only tend to be more effective at solving problems, but often intersect sustainability concerns with economic concerns. This can lead to much-needed system changes.

We can take inspiration from the pan-African visionary and former president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara. His vision of self-sufficiency through local production is expressed by saying that the revolution would be “measured by something else, it will be measured by the level of production. You have to produce, you have to produce.

Sankara linked this vision not only to local commerce, but to securing the health of the entire population and the ecosystems on which it depended. He at the same time invested in strengthening health systems, in particular vaccination rates, defending physical activity, combating desertification and deforestation, strengthening local food production and conserving water resources.

Such deliberate prioritization of planetary health is what will ensure that trade through the AfCFTA agreement is indeed a tool for sustainable development.

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