A new action agenda to help African economies improve their economic competitiveness is published today by the World Economic Forum, the African Development Bank, OECD and the World Bank.

The agenda comes at a time when shocks such as low commodity prices and a strong US dollar have highlighted the region’s chronic lack of competitiveness and the need for urgent diversification.

Africa’s competitiveness challenges are well known and have been highlighted in the Forum’s Africa Competitiveness Report series since 1998. In a quest for long-term solutions to this chronic challenge, the four partners staged a series of high-level competitiveness workshops across Africa’s regional economic communities (RECs) between October 2015 and April 2016 with the aim of prioritizing actions available to leaders.

The resulting Action Agenda for Raising Africa’s Competitiveness synthesizes over 120 recommendations of more than 200 participants from government, business, academia, international organizations and civil society from across the East African Community (EAC), Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and francophone North Africa.

Across all regions, two elements were emphasized by participants:

* Better public and private collaboration can be achieved by increasing levels of trust, establishing regular channels of collaboration and consultation, agreeing on a shared vision and working towards shared goals.

* Greater regional integration can improve competitiveness and growth by opening markets, leveraging economies of scale, lowering costs and increasing the diversity of goods and services.

Partners collaborated with the Rwanda Development Board and Brand South Africa for the EAC and SADC workshops. Building on the above two conditions, the four partners were able to synthesize an eight-point action agenda from the 120 individual recommendations that came out of the workshop series:

* Strengthen institutions and governance by providing government online services, simplifying administrative procedures and improving anti-corruption measures

* Develop a common regional infrastructure strategy beyond transport to include standard railway systems and transboundary water governance

* Improve labour market efficiency and skills development by leveraging technologies for education, reforming curricula to meet future demands, harmonizing curricula and qualifications within RECs, promoting technical vocational training, promoting entrepreneurship, creating better public-private linkages and creating regional labour markets for high-skilled professionals

* Facilitate the movement of goods, services and people by introducing common business and single-entry tourist visas, establishing information sharing and revenue collection mechanisms for taxation and business registration and harmonizing regional standards by establishing regional standardization organizations

* Champion small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by investing in SME capacity building, such as helping them formalize and prepare bankable projects and recognizing their potential to advance regional integration

* Improve access to financing and integrate financial markets by enabling cross-listing of firms in different stock markets, eliminating double taxation of capital flows, promoting the non-banking sector to finance the real economy and establishing credit reference bureaus to reduce information asymmetry between lenders and borrowers

* Promote regional trade through regional and global value chains by leveraging regional complementarities and developing export support services

* Improve productivity and profitability in the agriculture sector by developing rural infrastructure, removing restrictions on land acquisition, promoting mechanization, increasing the development of high-yield seeds, developing support mechanisms for smallholder farmers’ organizations, offering affordable financial products that are tailored to agricultural needs and developing storage and transformation facilities for agricultural products.

“This action agenda is from citizens for citizens: it is the hope of the four partner organisations that leaders from the region will use it as a reference to inform their policies and as a tool for collaboration among African leaders across sectors and national boundaries,” says Caroline Galvan, economist: Global Competitiveness and Risks at the World Economic Forum.