EXCLUSIVE | USAID-funded West Africa Investment Hub poised to ride the wave of new opportunities, Michael Clements tells Agrigate Global

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There is no denying the fact that agriculture remains one of the most important economic sectors for the African continent, employing the majority of the population directly as well as indirectly.  In a candid chat with Saura Panigrahi, Agrigate Global, Mr. Michael Clements – Chief of Party for USAID West Africa Trade & Investment Hub – noted the West African region is poised for a significant-cum-positive change due to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
Mr. Clements, who has an extensive experience in diverse sectors, sees USAID’s role crucial in the regional development amid the ongoing pandemic.
Edited Excerpts:

1. The USAID West Africa Trade & Investment Hub is one of the biggest enablers of the agricultural sector in the region. How do you see the region and West Africa Trade Hub transforming?

The West African region and other regions on the continent are poised for significant and very positive changes because of the launching of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) a few months ago.  This will be a major game changer for the trading of goods and services across the continent.  Regarding the West Africa Trade & Investment Hub, in addition to all the things we are already doing, we are poised to ride the wave of new opportunities that will devolve from the AfCFTA implementation. Intra-Africa trading in imports and exports has enormous potential to improve the lives and livelihoods of people in every country on the continent that chooses to participate.

2. Please share your perspective on the Trade Hub as a catalyst for bringing in a market-based economy with the involvement of private sectors.

A market-based economy already exists and has been for decades. But in certain places, for whatever reasons, it has not always supported ‘perfect competition’. One of the biggest reasons for that has been the lack of open and fair access to information in real-time, for all stakeholders. But progress in technology and communications in recent years has delivered major improvements in this regard.  However, there is still some way to go, especially with last-mile communications, and the sorely needed reduction, across the continent, in prices for airtime and data.

3. The COVID-19 pandemic has done considerable damage to the overall economic activity of the region, particularly SMEs. What are your plans for recovery?

Yes, the pandemic has caused considerable damage, at SME, household, and individual levels.  Regrettably, it’s not over yet.  But we are seeing some innovative and promising adaptions of old-world business models, such as remote services and work, e-commerce, and online trading. The Trade Hub supports these innovations with technical assistance, advisory inputs, and business linkages.

4. Given your extensive work in Africa, how do you see USAID’s role in the future of West Africa in the post COVID-19 era?

USAID’s role in the future of West Africa is currently, and will remain, very significant.  Not only because of the amount of new capital investment and associated finance that is injected into the economy by USAID each year, but also because of the American government’s genuine desire and commitment to be a trusted and reliable trading partner, through thick and thin times.  The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is one example of that.  With USAID’s backing and support, the Trade Hub promotes the AGOA to West African exporters by hosting webinars on this subject literally every month.

5. Finally, about Mensa Nigeria. How is it progressing?

It is in it’s early days. The pandemic hasn’t helped. But the idea is safely in incubation.

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the views of Agrigate Global.