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SAATM, AfCFTA: Likely game changers for Africa’s aviation

The world-renowned Economist Magazine once dubbed Africa the “hopeless continent.” In 2019, in a stark contrast, it published a cover that read “The new scramble for Africa.”

 

The Open African skies and AfCFTA, which are African Union (AU) flagship projects would help to harness the continent’s aviation potential and the over $2 trillion region’s GDP, writes WOLE SHADARE

 

Making the leap

 

It has been suggested that greater investment and growth would come if all countries in Africa sign the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) agreement, more commonly referred to as the Open Skies treaty for a more single, unified air transport market in Africa. Until today, only 28 countries have signed on with some continental heavyweights like Senegal and Tanzania missing. Their action has considerably slowed down the flagship air transport policy for the continent’s aviation industry.

 

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement has also been recognised as a great achievement and a historical step to create a free trade area that covers over a billion people and a collective Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of over $2 trillion, including most of Africa’s largest economies.

 

Nigeria, being the dominant market in Western and Central Africa and a major market in the continent, has excellent opportunities and potential, and these have been largely ignored or not exploited over the years. It is a significant opportunity for Nigerian airline operators to go into cargo business and transport these goods massively within a few hours to their destination countries. It will be cheaper and it gets there faster, which will lead to growth of this market.

 

Appraisal

 

Penultimate week, Nigeria’s National Action Committee on the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement organised its maiden Implementation Engagement Series for  viation Industry where stakeholders gathered to brainstorm on what is expected of the local aviation community.

 

There were a myriad of considerations to actualise the expected impact of the continental initiative (AfCFTA).

 

The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, led by calling on the committee to look at outstanding issue concerning implementation of Yamoussoukro Decision (YD), the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) and the proposed African Union Passport, among others.

 

For effective implementation of AfCFTA in the aviation subsector, the minister said the National Action Committee needed to look into the challenges in the implementation of SAATM itself and harmonisation of border management protocols to enable seamless facilitation of goods and people.

 

According to him, “this is very important for perishable goods. For example, you cannot fly bananas across borders and keep them in the storage facilities for days. Efforts to fast track the implementation of African Union Passport to eliminate requirement for visa has been ongoing.

 

This can facilitate easy movement for businesses or frequent flyers across the continent.”

 

The whole essence of civil aviation is to facilitate fast journeys and create efficiency as advocated for the strengthening of AFCAC (African Civil Aviation Commission) to harmonise civil aviation regulations for aviation service providers in order to actualise the YD, AfCFTA, which are the flagship project for the African Union Agenda 2063 to enforce appropriate rules and regulations to give fair and equal opportunities to all stakeholders and promote fair competition.

 

Appeal for support

 

The Nigerian National Action Committee also advocated special support for aviation industry specifically, to fast track systems upgrade in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt and Enugu with a view to matching international best standards. Sirika described the notion that aviation is an elitist sector as a myth, stressing that civil aviation is for all, as it connects markets and businesses, nations, cultures, history and traditions, schools and children, among others.

 

He noted that if SAATM is implemented, there would be more access to civil aviation, connectivity that would bring down prices and make civil aviation affordable, adding that the implementation of SAATM means aviation will be for all.

 

Some of the objectives of Af- CFTA is to create a single market, deepen economic integration within the continent and minimize dependence on non- African trades and services.

 

It also would help to resolve the challenge of multiple and overlapping membership to achieve a sustainable and increase socio-economic transformation within member states and enhance competitiveness of member states within Africa and in the global market.

 

Burgeoning market

 

With a common market of 1.3 billion people spread over a land mass of 30,370,000 sq km, endowed with wide range of agricultural and natural resources, one expects high level of competition at the implementation stage and operationalisation of AFCFTA.

 

The basic call of transportation, especially air transporta  tion, is to facilitate movement of the people, goods and services in safe, environmentally sound, affordable and secured condition. Aviation is essential for economic and social development, providing vital links between centre of transactions and market; and more goodies, makes aviation vital for successful implementation of AFCFTA.

 

Conscious of the fact and even realising the need for robust air transportation system, Nigerian government had developed and approved an aviation roadmap, which the Ministry of Aviation has been implementing in the last six years.

The implementation of the roadmap has shown that Nigeria is getting it right because of the sector’s emergence as the second fastest growing sector in 2018 and becoming the fastest growing sector in 2019 in the Nigerian economy, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

 

It improved the GDP from 0.4 to 0.6 at the time before COVID- 19 came in 2020 and pushed aviation to the backstage.

 

Aviation as accelerator

 

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) director for Africa, Funke Adeyemi, described aviation as an accelerator and further describing it as the only sector that can traverse borders quickly with speed and relatively safely, because of all the technical standards that are put in place since 1945.

 

According to her, “we believe aviation can really be an accelerator for the AfCFTA and so does African Union, which is why they have three flagship projects launched in 2018 and 2019, starting with the Single African Air Transport Market. What SAATM is designed to do  to create a Pan African air transport market; almost a domestic market across Africa that connects cities by air.

 

“The AfCFTA is to create one African market, which is proposed to be the largest trading block in the world by 2035, if it is done right. And ,of course, we have another initiative called the Free Movement Protocol for people and goods, which looks at visa regimes and Customs regimes across the continent.

 

These three together are really dedicated and ensuring the smooth facilitation of people, goods and services across Africa in order to help the African Union and all Africans realised the objectives of integration towards prosperity and unity.”

 

To help build a sustainable system for trades, goods and services, Adeyemi listed connectivity, open borders and use of technology to drive some of the issues around movement of cargo.

 

Without connectivity, Adeyemi said it was going to be difficult to realise the benefits of any framework agreement whether it is the SAATM or AfCFTA, stressing that connectivity is essential in terms of the ability to connect people and goods by different means with airlines supporting them to do that in accelerating the growth and the implementation of AfCFTA.

 

Last line

 

Nigeria is second after South Africa in domestic air traffic. What this means is that as goods move in and out, especially coming in, there is an opportunity to also move those goods within Nigeria.

 

Nigeria is not only looking at AfCFTA, the role it is going to play alongside other African countries includes looking at domestic production and growth.

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