Cairo, Egypt, November 16, 2023 (ECA) — Participants at the 3rd Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF), held in Cairo, Egypt, from 9 to 15 November, had the opportunity to learn about the Economic Commission for Africa’s (ECA’s) impactful contribution to regional integration and trade initiatives in Africa.
Through its Regional Integration and Trade Division (RITD), ECA showcased some of its new and existing strides toward reshaping Africa’s economic landscape.
“At the heart of our work is the drive to empower Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) within the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). IATF is about demonstrating the power of transformation under the AfCFTA,” said RITD director, Stephen Karingi, reflecting on ECA’s participation at IATF 2023.
Transformative findings on Informal Cross-Border Trade (ICBT)
At IATF 2023, ECA, in collaboration with Afreximbank, the African Union Commission, and ECOWAS Commission, unveiled groundbreaking findings on ICBT as contained in a joint report on Informal Cross-Border Trade (ICBT) in the ECOWAS region. The report outlines vital gender-disaggregated insights, shedding light on the value and nature of products traded, cross-border facilitation challenges, and recommendations.
The report touches on the significance of ICBT, with a total recorded value of USD 22.8 million during a 4-month data collection period. Gender disparities were evident, with women constituting 74% of ICBT transactions. However, transactions by the 26% men in the sector are four times higher in value than those of women.
ECA’s Karingi stressed the importance of recognizing, documenting, and integrating informal trade into subregional and continental policy frameworks, stating “intra-Africa trade is often underestimated due to inadequate data on ICBT.”
The imperative for comprehensive data to understand trade, develop targeted policies, and monitor progress accurately was highlighted during the session.
Representatives of partner institutions, including AUC Commissioner Albert Muchanga , ECOWAS Commissioner Massandjé Toure-Litse, and Afreximbank’s Yusuf Daya, applauded ECA for the report’s insights and rallied their voices in support of the development of a Continental Methodology for ICBT data collection in Africa.
Empowering SMEs for AfCFTA integration
ECA, in addition to sponsoring 11 young entrepreneurs from across the continent with exhibition space throughout IATF 2023, co-organized a session with UNDP, highlighting efforts to integrate SMEs into regional and continental value chains under the AfCFTA. Titled “Reaping the Benefits of the AfCFTA through SME Integration into Regional/Continental Value Chains,” the session provided insights into enhancing export capacities and entrepreneurial prowess of women and youth-led enterprises.
Sara Achieng, one of the ECA-sponsored entrepreneurs from Uganda, expressed her delight, stating, “I am grateful for this opportunity to have found a business partner who will distribute my products to Egypt and Senegal, where they have a solid base. This is what I’ve been praying for.”
Albert Muchanga, AUC Commissioner for Economic Development, Trade, Tourism, Industry, and Minerals, was among the numerous visitors at the ECA exhibition stand. He actively engaged with and encouraged the 11 ECA-sponsored SMEs.
Transforming Africa’s Industrialization landscape
During the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD’s) side event on “Production Transformation: Accelerating Africa’s Industrialization in a Changing World,” Mr. Karingi underscored the role of regional integration in driving Africa's industrialization. AfCFTA's significance in fostering green industrialization and digital transformation across the continent was highlighted, with Mr Karingi calling for fair access to international financial markets to support Africa's sustainable development.
Addressing financing challenges for industrial transformation
Mr. Karingi addressed the critical issue of financing industrial transformation, advocating for reforms in international financial and tax architectures. He emphasized the importance of de-risking investments in Africa, urging clarity on opportunities and addressing investment risks. ECA's ongoing efforts in this area include analytical tools and capacity-building interventions.
Role of policy and trade reviews
Recognizing the value of Production Transformation Policy Review (PTPR) led by the OECD Development Centre with ECA as a partner institution, Mr. Karingi emphasized their essential role in de-risking investments. He highlighted the need for active private sector engagement in the PTPR process, stressing the necessity of strong ownership by beneficiary countries for success.
In essence, ECA's dynamic involvement in the 2023 Intra-African Trade Fair showcased a steadfast commitment to addressing critical trade challenges. From groundbreaking ICBT insights to empowering SMEs and outlining strategies for industrialization, ECA's initiatives aim to catalyze positive transformations across Africa's economic landscape.
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