South Africa is hosting a weeklong Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF2021), which provides a unique and valuable platform for businesses to access an integrated African market of over 1.2 billion people with a GDP of over US$2.5 trillion.
Organized by the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), in collaboration with the African Union and the Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), it is the 2nd edition of the IATF, taking place in Durban from November 15-21.
The opening ceremony drew top-level speakers, among them the African presidents, who gave an insight into economic opportunities, challenges and threats to Africa.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa declared in his keynote address that South Africa is ready to work with other African countries to drive more balanced, equitable and fair-trade relations for the benefit of the continent.
“This Trade Fair is about building bridges. It is about connecting countries. It is about connecting people as well. Now Africa is taking concrete steps to write its own economic success story and this Intra-African Trade Fair is part of that story. Africa is opening up new fields of opportunity,” he asserted.
President Ramaphosa also wants to see more made in Africa labels, as “this is critical if we are to change the distorted trade relationship that exists between African countries and the rest of the world. We can no longer have a situation where Africa exports raw materials and imports finished goods with those materials. By promoting trade in Africa, we strengthen our own industrial base and produce goods for ourselves and for each other.”
He stressed the need of “using the combination of the continent’s raw materials and industrial capacity, finance, services and infrastructure to produce quality finished goods to local and global markets”. And “about creating a market large enough to attract investors from across the world to set up their production facilities on the continent,” Ramaphosa said.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari pointed out: “Today, Africa starts a collaborative journey towards collective economic prosperity. We cannot achieve this goal by talking alone. The implementation, the difficult journey and the challenges are surmountable if both public and private sectors collaborate. On the public sector side, governments must support local entrepreneurs to build scale, and therefore improve productivity.”
He added that “the African Continental Free Trade Area must make the effort to ensure that Africa becomes a marketplace where no country is left behind, create jobs and enhance revenues for all parties”.
President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Afreximbank, Professor Benedict Oramah, referred to the IATF2021 as collective efforts for stimulation of African countries’ economies and attempt undertaken towards holistic economic recovery backed by political support. “It offers a comprehensive solution—it is not just a trade fair.”
Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera said in order to make intra-African trade a reality, it is necessary to review border procedures, improve transport infrastructure and make effective the airline routes. The realization the intra-African trade requires effective and regular electricity distribution and broadband connectivity especially in industrialized and urbanized major African cities.
Secretary-General of the African Continental Free Trade Area Secretariat, Wamkele Mene, observed: “The next wave of investment in African markets must focus on productive sectors of Africa’s economy in order to drive the continent’s industrial development in the decades to come.”
Ambassador Albert M. Muchanga, Commissioner for Trade and Industry, African Union, said that in the medium term the vision is to transform the Intra-African Trade Fair brand “into a self-financing special purpose vehicle, which will be owned by all African Union Member States, and Pan African financial institutions”.
Other special remarks were given by: Hakainde Hichilema, (Zambia); Rt. Dr. Edouard Ngirente, (Prime Minister Rwanda); Hussein Mwinyi, (representing Samia Suluhu Hassan, Tanzania), and Emmerson Mnangagwa, (Zimbabwe).
The first edition of IATF was held in Cairo under the auspices of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. The second edition was initially planned for 2020 in Kigali, Rwanda, but was postponed due to outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. It was re-scheduled and the venue changed to Durban International Convention Centre, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.