The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are set to take center stage at the upcoming Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development held under the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
The conference of African ministers will be held virtually on March 17-23 under the theme of "Africa's Sustainable Industrialization and Diversification in the Digital Era in the Context of COVID-19," the UNECA announced on Wednesday.
"The theme recognizes the continent's desire to industrialize and create jobs for the millions of its populace, in particular, the youth joining the labor market annually," it said.
Stephen Karingi, UNECA's Regional Integration and Trade Division Director, said the theme comes in handy, offering ministers and experts a platform to discuss the need to ensure that digitalization strategies are integrated into policy and planning frameworks for industrialization.
"The AfCFTA comes in handy during these difficult times where the continent is fighting COVID-19," the UNECA director said.
"It is crucial that our governments establish institutional arrangements for cooperation on the digital economy, and provisions to support digital capacities and industrialization and connect African businesses," said Karingi.
The coming into force of the AfCFTA signaled a unique turning point in the continent's pursuit of industrialization, with e-commerce, a key catalyst in digitalized economies, being a key cornerstone of the pact's infrastructure, according to the UNECA.
A main element of this year's theme is the recognition of the need for African countries to achieve rapid economic growth without exacerbating the environmental cost of development, it was noted.
It calls for an alignment of development strategies with climate change mitigation measures, recognizing that industrialization, while being an effective engine of growth for many developed countries, has come at "a severe cost to the global climate."
According to the UNECA, African countries will need to implement development strategies that recognize that better, safer and more inclusive growth is one that involves strong climate action and efficient use of natural resources.
The theme also recognizes that Africa's developmental path must minimize the aberration of developed nations and instead seek to embrace modernization through digitalization and less climate-costly industrialization activities, it was noted.
If emerging digitalization can be scaled, it could be transformational, helping Africa to sustainably industrialize and diversify within a global digital economy estimated to be worth more than 11.5 trillion US dollars, it was noted.
The ECA argued that Africa must embrace environmentally sustainable industrialization and diversification as a pathway to creating decent jobs for the 170 million African young people set to enter the job market between 2019 and 2030, building forward better from COVID-19 and ensuring resilience to future shocks.