Mauritius: The opportunities and challenges for women, youth and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to benefit from the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and to participate in regional value chains were at the fore of the second day of the national awareness Workshop of AfCFTA held at the Westin Turtle in Balaclava.
The Minister of Industrial Development, SMEs and Cooperatives, Mr Soomilduth Bholah, and the Minister of Gender Equality and Family Welfare, Mrs Kalpana Devi Koonjoo-Shah, gave their remarks today at the Workshop.
Minister Bholah dwelt on the importance of preferential market access in establishing Mauritius as a reliable and preferred destination for many manufactured goods, adding that “we are exporting more than 1,500 tariff lines of products across the five continents”. The AfCFTA, he observed, comes at an opportune time as Mauritius is faced with a huge challenge of moving fast towards new strategies for sustained growth.
“The need to stretch our international exposure is essential to widen the economic frontiers, including our position as a key regional hub”, he said, while emphasizing that in this process, Africa is the natural target of the expansion strategy and necessary policies and strategies have been put in place to enhance economic presence on the continent. The Minister remarked that Mauritius already has a strong foothold in Africa as in 2021, domestic exports of goods stood at over Rs 16.3 billion, accounting for 31% of total domestic exports.
Underlining the importance of the manufacturing sector, Mr Bholah stated that it represents a vital pillar of the economy, contributing 12.7% to Gross Value Addition and 17% to total employment. On this score, he spoke of Government’s commitment to ensure its long-term sustainability as outlined in the Industrial Policy and Strategic Plan for Mauritius (2020-2025). Minister Bholah also elaborated on a host of measures that have been put in place, including the export promotion strategy of the Economic Development Board (EDB) to exploit the trade gains under the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and AfCFTA.
The EDB, he said, has recently organized a Trade and Investment Forum in Kenya, Tanzania and Botswana as a match-making exercise to connect Mauritian enterprises with prospective buyers and investors, adding that similar activities would be organized in other parts of Africa where Mauritius has yet to make a significant breakthrough. The need is to intensively capitalize on the Free Trade Agreements that we have within COMESA, SADC and the AfCFTA, he stated.
Minister Koonjoo-Shah, for her part, spoke of the urgent need to empower women by exploring the market of exporting Mauritian expertise and services to the African continent in the field of tourism, and financial services, which she said would provide a greater opportunity to foster increased participation of women in this particular market.
The Gender Minister further pointed out that the United Nations Development has partnered with the Mauritian Government and the private sector to undertake national consultations on the AfCFTA on Women in Trade. Through this partnership, she highlighted that Mauritius could promote opportunities by bringing together women entrepreneurs to share experiences on the gendered barriers and challenges to entering the African market, articulating the priority support needed to boost their participation, and enabling the formulation of national policy positions to inform the Action Plan of the Mauritius Africa strategy.
Mauritius, the Minister, underlined, can be a first mover by capitalizing on the trade opportunities through deliberate expansion of access for women. She called for the need to harness the benefits of the AfCFTA, which will encourage and boost intra-African production, intra-African consumption, and intra-African trade and investment.
The Workshop is organized, from 09 to 10 December 2022, by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and International Trade of Mauritius in collaboration with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), focuses on the theme Opportunities and Challenges for Mauritius under the AfCFTA.