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Vaccine and Ventilator Shortages Show Need for African Free Trade

Covid-19 is spurring calls to implement the world’s biggest tariff-free zone to boost investment.

People line up to receive Covid vaccinations at a clinic in Harare, Zimbabwe, on July 8. 

People line up to receive Covid vaccinations at a clinic in Harare, Zimbabwe, on July 8. 

Photographer: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters
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At the onset of the pandemic, global supply chain disruptions limited Africa’s ability to respond; it struggled to access additional personal protective equipment and lifesaving ventilators. Even now, as the developed world starts to reopen after hoarding vaccines, Africa is the least inoculated region, leaving it vulnerable to new waves of infection and extended lockdowns.

The experience is bolstering the case for the continent’s new free-trade pact, designed to stimulate intra-regional commerce. “What we’ve learned from this crisis is that we’ve got to accelerate Africa’s industrial development so that we become more self-sufficient as a continent and enhance our productive capacity,” Wamkele Mene, secretary-general of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), said in a speech in June.