Experts underscore need for collaborations to improve food safety, intra-African trade

AFRICA – The 2021 Shaping a World of Trust virtual business conversation, hosted by Bureau Veritas Africa, has emphasized the need for collaboration between government, companies and customers if Africa is to meet sustainability goals, ensure food safety,  and improve intra-African trade.

The Executive Food Safety Initiative (FSI) at the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA), Matlou Stati, highlighted that collaboration across a wide range of public and private sector stakeholders, including those representing consumers, was a key element of the functioning of the FSI.

The FSI collaborates closely with relevant national authorities, stakeholders and experts in order to provide objective, independent scientific advice, as well as assistance in relation to related legislation. It is dedicated to promoting the safety, responsible manufacturing, importation, marketing and selling of food and beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.

Underlining the successes of the FSI through collaboration, Setati, said the implementation of the Department of Health’s salt reduction regulations saw manufacturers working together and sharing research to mitigate and resolve implementation hurdles. Despite the good intentions of the regulations in improving the health and nutrition of the population, during production the quality and integrity of products was affected and CGCSA had to ask for some extensions to ensure product reformulations meets safety and quality standards and customer satisfaction.

Another challenge encountered was in sodium testing alignment between private and government laboratories. She informed that collaborative discussions resulted in the National Metrology Institute of SA providing the solution by means of – proficiency testing. All relevant laboratories and the Department of Health took part in proficiency testing thus ensuring alignment, credibility and creating trust.

Intra-African trade potential

On the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), Babajide Sodipo, Senior Manager African Union/AfCFTA Relations and Trade Policy at Afrexim Bank, said the agreement offers such a transformational opportunity for the continent that it has to be implemented despite the challenges. Some of the challenges include language and culture barriers, different legal systems and lack of capacity to understand and implement the trade agreement.

He pointed out that AfCFTA is not a magical tool but a legal agreement, and countries have to clean up their business environment, increase productive capacity to make it work.

The African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) focuses on phasing out the tariffs on 90% of goods exchanged between African countries, eliminating non-tariff barriers, the definition of rules of origin and a deal on customs cooperation and trade remedies.

While the agreement holds enormous potential to increase intra-continental trade from the current 16% to around 60%, it comes with challenges that need political will to overcome. Partnerships between the public and private sector could help governments successfully overcome the challenges of AfCTFA. For example, the implementation of a single window platform automates, optimizes and dematerializes customs processes, thereby eliminating many of the risks of a manual system.

According to Florence Muleya Chief Executive, Zambian Association of Manufacturers, the challenge for manufacturers exporting across Africa lies in the standards, achieving quality and productivity as well as overcoming language barriers. She added that while AfCFTA held enormous potential for Zambian manufacturers, the devil was in the nitty-gritty details. Further she voiced that achieving the agreement’s ideals would require co-operation, with large companies assisting smaller companies to overcome their challenges.

Kuseni Dlamini, Chairman of Massmart Holdings, a pan-African retail company, was upbeat about the agreement. He mentioned that Africa had an opportunity to learn from other continental trade blocs and possibly turn out to be a first world regional bloc.

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