'Relax visa rules to unlock intra-regional trade and economic growth'

Published: 10 June 2013
AFRICAN Development Bank vice president and chief economist Professor Mthuli Ncube says visa requirements in Africa are among the factors restricting intra-regional trade and economic growth.

Professor Ncube was contributing to a high-level panel discussion on the benefits of relaxing visa restrictions throughout Africa at the AfDB annual meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, which ended last week.

"Africa is one of the regions in the world with the toughest visa requirements. Visa restrictions imply missed economic opportunities for intra- regional trade and for the local service economy such as tourism, cross-country medical services or education," said Professor Ncube.

"The movement of talent and people is at the core of regional integration and is a core pillar of the bank's 10-year strategy. Twenty-five percent of all trade in Africa is informal, it is the strongest in West Africa. If there were no visa requirements, informal sector trading would boom."

Contributing to the same discussion, Economic Community of West African States commissioner of macroeconomic policy Dr Ibrahim Bocar Ba underlined that Africans mainly migrate to Africa. In Ecowas, he said, more than 80 percent of all migration is intra-regional.

"Nonetheless, Africans need visas to go to 80 percent African countries. These restrictions are higher for Africans travelling within Africa than for Europeans and North Americans," said Dr Bocar Ba.

Razia Khan, who is head of research in Africa for Standard Chartered Bank, introduced herself rather as a citizen of an African country, travelling extensively within Africa - who often measures the time that it takes to get visas against the amount of economic research that could have been developed.

Mr Leonard Rugwabiza, director, general planning at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning in Rwanda, shared the lessons of his country, which has moved to biometrics border management, low restrictions on transfer of services in engineering and legal services as well as visas on arrival for all African citizens since January 1, 2013. Rwanda, with a limited number of embassies abroad, has also introduced e-visas in order to reduce the costs and time constraints of people in obtaining visas.

He said "since we opened our borders, tourism from African countries has increased by 24 percent".

Furthermore, "trade actually shifted from being oriented to Europe and North America, and is now oriented to neighbouring countries. Trade with neighbouring countries increased by 50 percent last year, and trade with neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo rose by 73 percent".

Abdul Awl, a board member of Dabashill Group, said: "The private sector is the engine of growth, and we all talk about improving the climate for business sector. Visas are a major barrier, and pose restrictions on doing business."
- herald
Tags: Visa, Relax, AfDB,


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