In Egypt more than 1,500 public and private business delegates and state leaders agreed on 20-21 February to mobilise massive investments for the implementation of Africa’s largest trading bloc made up of COMESA (19 countries); SADC (15 countries) and the EAC (5 countries), which was created in 2015 by 26 African countries with a total of 620m consumers and a combined GDP nearing USD 1.2tn, reports IPS. The agreement crowned the “Africa 2016” investment forum held in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh.
“African governments must make titanic efforts to ensure the right atmosphere needed to attract investors; adopt the necessary legislative measures to facilitate business activities; combat rampant corruption and eliminate bureaucratic obstacles; reform their financial systems to facilitate re-exporting capitals and benefits… not to mention democratic governance and preventing and ending so many armed conflicts…”, noted one of the delegates. Corruption comes first on the list of impediments to investment along with instability, the source said. Studies by the World Bank, the UN Development Programme and Transparency International confirm that Africa is still the most corrupt region in the world and that it has failed to solve the problem. “Without all that there will be meetings and more meetings, but decisions will not find their way to implementation. The volume of trade between African countries does not exceed 10% of the continent’s foreign trade, and will not increase unless tariff barriers are reformed and needed infrastructure is built, such as roads and ports to transport goods, among other,” said the diplomat who was a member of the Egyptian delegation.
“Times have changed in Africa,” said the Business for Africa Forum’s concept document which was submitted to the meeting. With interest in the continent growing exponentially, some of today’s newest business players are originating from non-traditional regions such as South America, Eastern Europe, the Gulf, and Africa itself, it added. “While well-established and new partners from Europe, North America, and Asia continue to be valued, it is interesting to note that the private sector’s scope of attention is increasingly widening to include, especially among new-comers, consumer-market industries including food, IT, tourism, finance, and retail.” Regional integration and favourable trade agreements between African countries continue to be critical to this process.
The Africa 2016 Forum marked a further step towards the implementation of the goals adopted during the January 2012 African Union Summit which focused on the theme of “Boosting Intra-Africa Trade”, as part of the heads of state and government decision to establish a Continental Free Trade Area. The continent clearly needs to trade more with itself as a means of boosting growth on the continent as well as diversifying from its reliance on external trade counterparts which exposes Africa to significant exogenous risks such as we are seeing currently with the impact of the slowdown in China on the demand for commodities.