By Thoboloko Nts’onyane

MASERU – The CEO at the Private Sector Foundation of Lesotho (PSFL) Thabo Qhesi worries that Lesotho is failing to fully exploit the benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement due to lack of quality standards assurance body.

Lesotho endorsed this agreement in 2020. The AfCFTA entered into force on May 30, 2019, after 24 Member States deposited their Instruments of Ratification. It was launched in Niamey, Niger, in July 2019.

The quality assurance standards play a key role for the trade. This is mainly to ensure that consumers get high-quality products and for ease of trading with other countries.

He said the uncertified products cannot compete in the international markets.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), “The standards are used internationally by governments, producers, traders, importers, and exporters; integrated into commercial contracts; and referenced in legislation.  By providing a common language for trade between buyers and sellers, the standards play an important role in facilitating trade, enabling traders to be confident that they will receive produce of the desired quality even across borders.

“The standards also help increase profitability for producers by enabling them to receive higher prices for higher quality produce, thus stimulating high-quality production,” Qhesi said, also pointing out that it is costly to use South African standards.

Lesotho does not have a national standards body for quality assurance. Traditionally, the products produced in the country are taken to the South African Bureau of Standards facilities that will then determine their quality.  And this has not set well with the Lesotho exporters who have developed their standards according to the technical quality requirements of importing countries and international standards.

The foreign companies producing in Lesotho for export are also reported to have complained about the lack of a standards body in Lesotho as they are forced to rely on the South African Bureau of Standards.

Meanwhile, Lesotho participates in a regional program on Standardization, Quality, Accreditation, and Metrology for the Southern African Development Community (SADC).  The program harmonizes standards across the Member States.

Although the Lesotho Standards Institution (LSI) was launched in 2020, it has failed to fully kick off reportedly owing to lack of funding and the human resources. This body was envisaged to address the standardization and quality assurance challenges bedeviling the producing industries in the country.

It would also enable Lesotho to easily penetrate the international markets and probably diversify her products under the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA).

AfCFTA operationalizes the Agenda 2063 aspiration; ‘The Africa We Want’. It represents the continental opportunities for growth, intra-trade, growth and investment.

Some countries have already begun exploiting the benefits of AfCFTA.  Last year Kenya shipped locally-made car and truck batteries and also Kenyan grown tea to Ghana.

This continental arrangement further strives to create an intercontinental free-trade zone with a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to the tune of US$3.4 trillion.

It brings in total the 55 African countries and the eight regional economic communities (RECs).

“Competitiveness of every country hinges on Science and Technology as well as Quality Infrastructure to ascertain good performance,” said the PSFL CEO.

 “AfCTFA will contribute to establishing regional value chains in Africa, enabling investment and job creation. The practical implementation of the AfCTFA has the potential to foster industrialization, job creation, and investment, thus enhancing the competitiveness of Africa in the medium to long term.”