YAOUNDE African states must speed up economic integration to deal with challenges posed by the global economic crisis and mitigate future external shocks, the African Union commissioner for economic affairs said in an interview.
While Africa was largely shielded from the initial fallout from the banking crisis, economies already hit by high food and oil prices are now suffering from lower commodity exports and remittances from abroad as the global economy slows down.
There are several regional trade blocs in Africa such as the East African Community and the Economic Community of West African States, but progress on free movement of goods, capital and people has often been hampered by national interests.
"The current global financial and economic crisis highlights the fundamental need and urgency with which this integration must be achieved," Maxwell Mkwezalamba, the African Union's Commissioner for Economic Affairs, said late on Monday.
"Integration will not only enable enhanced and accelerated economic growth and sustainable development, poverty reduction and facilitate peace, security and stability of our people, but will also enable Africa to speak with one voice and collectively address the myriad of common challenges," he told Reuters.
Mkwezalamba was speaking on the sidelines of a conference in Cameroon on partnerships and integration in Africa.
He said the magnitude and of the current crisis offered Africa the opportunity to vigorously and aggressively pursue integration and strengthen its position in the global economy.
By fostering strong regional trading blocs, African economies could accelerate diversification, generate economies of scale and mitigate the fallout from future economic shocks.
But he said gaps between commitments and delivery were evident in the non-implementation, or sometimes slow ratification of certain protocols, such as with the issue of free movement of people, goods, services and capital.
"These crises remind us of our need to expedite, amongst others, the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers, the promotion of free movement of factors of production, the scaling up of infrastructure development and financing, the implementation of macroeconomic and fiscal reforms, and the diversification of our economies," Mkwezalamba said.
And even more important is the whole question of infrastructure development to improve the movement of goods and persons from one country to another, the commissioner said.
"Our infrastructure development requirements for the moment will be anything between $15-20 billion dollars a year. But within the continent we cannot generate even a fraction of that and we have to depend on our partners, and obviously partners cannot support us all the way through," Mkwezalamba said.