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Going digital during pandemic signals a positive change for SMMEs – SBI (Eyewitness News)
While thousands of small businesses crumbled under the weight of the economic slump brought on by the recession and COVID-19 pandemic, many of them went digital to survive. The Small Business Institute (SBI) said that this has signaled a positive change for SMMEs. In its research paper titled: “Digitalisation – the best hope for South Africa and its small firms,” the SBI noted how digitalisation was essential for SMMEs which wanted to participate in the future economy. “More than a few of those (businesses) that survived found ways to adapt and change how they conduct business, what or how they sell, and some intrepid and truly entrepreneurial souls started new businesses during the crisis,” the SBI noted.
In 2020, a total of $88 million (roughly R1.2 billion) disclosed investments were injected into tech start-ups in the City of Cape Town across 46 deals. So says Wesgro – the official tourism, trade and investment promotion agency for Cape Town and the Western Cape – noting it as the “highest investments made in SA” during the period. Wesgro revealed this following the release of the inaugural ‘African Tech Ecosystems of the Future’ rankings, which mapped the tech ecosystems around Africa’s biggest cities. Regularly ranked among the “top emerging start-up ecosystems” as well as “top tech employment hubs”, Cape Town is now counted among the fastest-growing regions for foreign direct investment (FDI), according to Wesgro.
“Extraordinary times … call for extraordinary measures”, said Katherine Tai, the US Trade Representative, last week as she announced that the Biden administration supports waiving “IP protections on Covid-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic”. Given the hard-line position on IP adopted by previous administrations, regardless of which party was in power, this was quite extraordinary. But what does it actually mean, and will it make any difference?
TPT to deploy new version of container terminal operating system (Engineering News)
State-owned Transnet Port Terminals (TPT) will, later this month, launch a new version of its container terminal operating system Navis Sparcs N4. This latest version will set the new architectural foundation for added features and capabilities, says TPT CFO Sharla Chetty. “As technology becomes an integral part of executing daily tasks, the upgrade introduces improved performance, reliability, security and scalability, providing support for later database software versions. Business intelligence and operational monitoring dashboards have been tuned for better usability and performance,” says Chetty.
Despite the severe impact of Covid-19 lockdowns on the automotive industry globally, South African automotive components exports increased to a record R54.5 billion in 2020 from R53.7 billion in 2019. This increase was attributed to record catalytic converter exports of R25.98 billion, mainly to Europe in line with stricter emissions legislation implemented in the region in 2020. Catalytic converter exports accounted for 47.7% of total automotive component exports in 2020.
Today, U.S. Ambassador Lisa Johnson joined Minister of Industrialisation and Trade Lucia Iipumbu to officially launch Namibia’s African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Utilization Strategy. The strategy seeks to increase Namibia’s exports under the AGOA program, which allows Namibia to export over 6,400 products tariff-free to the United States. This joint effort to develop the AGOA strategy is part of the United States’ efforts to expand mutually beneficial trade with Namibia.
Government has announced an Incremental Export Incentive Scheme and additional fiscal enhancement measures for investors to buttress the ongoing ease of doing business reforms aimed at promoting robust export-led productive growth and diversification of the economy. The interventions entail fine-tuning the policy on the export receipts retention threshold so that the benefits accrue directly to the exporters of goods and services. This will see producers mainly in mining and manufacturing sectors as well as those businesses operating under the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) model benefiting more.
With the coming in of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and guided by the ambitious focus of the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1:2021-2025), Zimbabwe is driving at creating new and accelerated domestic industrial value chains.
Exports of maize to Kenya through the Namanga border post has resumed but the usual large volumes are not there yet. Traders of the commodity at the border town said in principle the recent stand-off by the two countries over the maize trade is over. Several trucks from Tanzania, which had been stranded at the border with maize, are reported to have been cleared to Nairobi. A spot check by The Citizen at the busy border crossing yesterday found no lorry with maize awaiting clearance. Instead the extensive parking yards on both sides of the border had trucks loaded with other exports to Kenya, notable among them timber.
Farmers export less than a tonne of bananas despite South Korea deal (Business Daily)
Kenyan farmers have exported less than a tonne of bananas and broccoli to South Korea, five years after the two nations struck a bilateral deal for supplies to the Asian country. The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) has attributed the low volumes to lack of awareness by farmers. Kenya in May 2015 initiated a bilateral agreement to ease access to the South Korean market for various products from Kenya, a move that saw the country allowed to export unripe banana and broccoli, which would not require pest risk analysis as it is the case with other products.
The government has identified the automotive industry as a vital pillar to transform the economy from one reliant on raw material exports to one driven by value added exports, the Minister of Trade and Industry, Mr Alan Kyerematen, has said. As a result, he said the government was making the necessary investments to build the capacities and competitiveness of manufacturing enterprises to help position them for greater productivity and efficiency. “Government has approved an Incentive Framework specially designed for the One District One Factory (1D1F) designated companies which include tax holidays, duty waivers and corporate tax, designed to help build the capacities and competitiveness of these enterprises, and to position them for greater productivity and efficiency,” he said.
AfCFTA: What Mauritius stands to gain (The Southern Times)
Mauritius, being strategically located between Asia and Africa, praises itself as having one of the continent’s most stable regulatory environment. Mauritius has over the years been an offshore gateway to Africa. It has long been an advocate for developing economic bridges between itself and other African states, leveraging its position as Africa’s best place to conduct business as recognised by the World Bank. Mauritius has firmly established and promoted itself as a regional hub for facilitating investments on the continent. It is thus undeniable that AfCFTA will add further to the attractiveness of Africa as a place to do business.
Why recent travel advisory updates on Nigeria is bad for business (Ventures Africa)
Usually, when a country issues travel advisory updates to its citizens, it is to ensure that they can conduct their business safely in another country. These recommendations are made as each nation has a responsibility to ensure the safety of its people, and often carry specific guidelines addressing the state of health implications on travel or other pressing matters.
Currently, Nigeria has been placed on a level 3 travel advisory whereby travellers are advised to reconsider travel to the country. This is a countrywide alert, while certain parts of the country have been designated with a level 4 status. Nonetheless, one cannot help but establish a link between a subsequent drop in foreign direct investments owing to the country’s poor state of security. Much as we would like to wish these problems away, they require quick and decisive action.
Nigeria needs urgent economic diversification – AfDB (Nairametrics)
The African Development Bank has stated that Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, needs urgent economic diversification to move the country from a single income source (oil and minerals) towards multiple income sources. “In pursuit of long-term recovery and sustainable development, Nigeria needs urgent economic diversification. Nothing is more poignantly demonstrative of the danger of over-reliance on a single or narrow range of commodities than the recent crash in oil price we saw in 2020 due to the COVID-19. Economic diversification entails a shift away from a single income source (oil and minerals) toward multiple income sources from an increasing spectrum of sectors, products and markets,” Prof. Oyelaran-Oyeyinka Oyebanji, Senior Special Adviser on Industrialisation at AfDB, said.
Address plight of Nigerian traders in Ghana (Daily Trust)
From all indications, the plight of thousands of Nigerian traders in Ghana has not improved due to the uncooperative attitude of the Ghanaian authorities and the seemingly lackadaisical approach to the issue by the Nigerian government. The issue centres on the $1m levy slapped by the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) on Nigerian traders and other foreigners as part of conditions for doing business in Ghana. The conditions set by the Ghanaian authorities, which is contrary to the trade protocol of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) of which Ghana is a member has triggered a flurry of diplomatic engagements between officials of the Nigerian government and their Ghanaian counterparts at the highest level in a bid to resolve the matter amicably.
Former Ghanaian High Commissioner to Canada, Ayikoi Otoo, has indicated that, the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) would be key in unlocking Africa’s brimming economic potentials. In addressing the role of international trade in Ghana’s development, the respected diplomat asserted that, African countries must be smart to take their destinies into their own hands, if they are to achieve global competitiveness in international trade. “The nature of the world economic order is such that, finished products of African countries face tariff and non-tariff barriers in accessing Western markets. Even if such products are able to surmount tariff barriers, they then face the steep walls of certification and patronage”, he stated.
DRC, DP World revise initial agreement for Banana deep water port project (Construction Review)
The President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Félix Tshisekedi, and the regional director for Africa of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) port operator Dubai Ports (DP) World had a discussion session on Wednesday, May 5, 2021, which focused on the readjustment of the relative convention for the construction of the Banana deep water port.
The initial agreement for the Banana deep-water port project in central Kongo dates back to 2018 when a contract was signed between DP World and former Congolese head of state, Joseph Kabila. The revised version of the original agreement (which expired on March 23, last year) reconsiders the interests of each party to the contract and helps to rebalance their respective benefits.
African regional and continental news
Zimbabwe yesterday joined SADC in witnessing the commissioning of a state of the art Kazungula bridge that links Botswana, Zambia and Africa’s hinterland in a development that will enhance intra-regional trade and cooperation. Zimbabwe, in the fullness of time, will be part of the project after pledging to pay its share of the bridge having been left out due to a diplomatic standoff before the dawn of the Second Republic. Although the $260 million Kazungula bridge presently links Zambia and Botswana, the two nations have agreed to rope in Zimbabwe as the region moves to improve trade and commerce through interlinking countries that faced difficulties because of infrastructural bottlenecks. The completion of the project gives impetus to SADC’s Regional Development Master Plan – Vision 2027 – which envisions well-maintained and operated infrastructure that promotes seamless transport services in the region. Apart from that, the bridge fits into intra-regional and continental ideals encapsulated in the Africa Agenda 2063 of a more integrated, united, and prosperous continent.
Will Kazungula Bridge ‘steal’ Beitbridge’s thunder? (Mmegi Online)
No one is willing to go on the record, but late Zimbabwe president, Robert Mugabe appears to have been a stumbling block in the early days of the Kazungula Bridge. The project, which involves building a 930-metre road and rail bridge over the Zambezi River near the quadripoint between Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, was envisaged decades ago to replace the inefficient and even dangerous pontoon being used.
SADC had long been eager to ease regional trade as part of boosting economies and this, amongst other ways, could be achieved by a smoother crossing of the Zambezi River, a major obstacle to and from the economic hubs in Durban and Gauteng to the northern part of the region.
At present, the major north-south economic corridor within SADC follows the old Cape to Cairo vision, with Durban, Cape Town and Gauteng threading through Beitbridge in southern Zimbabwe to the Chirundu and Victoria Falls bridges, which cross the Zambezi. From there, goods travel to countries such as Zambia, Tanzania, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mnangagwa’s comments highlight the regional debates going on ahead of Kazungula’s official opening. What seemed like a far off pipe dream some decades ago, is now the game changer for regional trade and geopolitics. While the Kazungula Bridge represents a marginally longer route to the northern SADC hubs, than the Beitbridge-Chirundu, the efficiencies in the newer corridor are expected to draw traffic away from the older corridor.
“The economic significance of this one-stop border post to the two countries, and indeed, to SADC cannot be overemphasised, as this facility will enable trade facilitation between the two countries and throughout the region and beyond,” finance and economic development minister, Peggy Serame, said recently at the signing of an agreement for the posts.
This chapter focus on seaport choice problem in Southern Africa where four large landlocked countries such as Botswana, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe are located. These landlocked countries have a unique set of options when it comes to choosing a gateway seaport for trading with countries in other continents because they are surrounded by oceans on three sides: west, east, and south. Two case studies related to transport in Zambia are conducted, such as construction of Kazungula Bridge and renovation of TAZARA railway. The authors have used a model to simulate the development of transport infrastructure in these case studies and the implications of these developments for the region. Besides, brief reviews for the current situation with regard to land transport and seaports in Southern Africa are conducted. The simulation results show that once Kazungula Bridge is built, container flow will shift from the Zimbabwean route and increase along the Botswana route. However, the choice of port will not change dramatically. Meanwhile, a more significant change was observed in port throughput in the simulation once the TAZARA railway renovation is completed. The results show that container throughput at Dar es Salaam port will increase, while those at Beira and Durban ports will decrease. This implies that railway is effective for the Southern African region to increase the share of cargo volume, since railway is far more competitive in terms of unit cost than road transport.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) programme in Support to Industrialisation and Productive Sectors (SIPS) is now operational. The SIPS programme is targeting to up-scale grant awards for the development of the leather, anti-retroviral drugs, medical supplies and associated value chains.
Through the SIPS programme, SADC Member States have begun implementing national leather development strategies under the leather value chain of the Programme. The SIPS Programme aims to assist SADC’s industrialisation and regional integration agenda, and is supported by funding from the European Union and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
SADC will implement Component 1, which aims at enhancing of policy, regulatory and business environment on national and regional levels for development and sustainable operation of regional value chains for selected products in the agro-processing and pharmaceutical sectors, while Component 2, to be implemented by GIZ, will ensure that private sector participation in ARV value chains regional leather value chains is enhanced. The Programme will be implemented in a coordinated manner for all the result areas by the SADC Secretariat.
SADC will also focus on activities aimed at enhancing policy, regulatory and business environment at the national and regional levels for the development and sustainable operation of the leather and ARV regional value chains, said Mr Tutalife.
EAC Secretary General assures Namanga Border Management Agencies of EAC’s full support (East African Community)
The EAC Secretary General, Hon (Dr.) Peter Mathuki, has called upon the various government agencies at Namanga border to hold regular consultative meetings with traders to identify and address factors that affect intra-regional trade. Dr. Mathuki was speaking during his visit to the Namanga One Stop Border Post (OSBP) on Monday.
The objective of the visit was to assess the flow of goods and services at the Namanga border, as a follow-up of the directives issued by their Excellences President Samia Suluhu Hassan of Tanzania, and President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya on the removal of trade restrictions between the two countries in the spirit of EAC integration.
While briefing the EAC delegation, Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) Namanga OSBP Manager, Paul Kamkulu, said that on one hand in the FY 2019/2021, TRA issued 4,830 import declarations, while in the FY 2020/2021, 4,399 declarations were issued; and on the other hand, TRA issued 8,660 export declarations in the FY 2019/2021, and 10,227 declarations in 2020/2021. “We have also observed a similar trend in the tonnage imports and exports, and the drop in imports to Tanzania can largely be attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Kamkulu.
EAC Sec Gen calls for harmonization of business standards in East Africa (Kenya Broadcasting Corporation)
East Africa Community Secretary General Peter Mathuki has called for harmonization of business standards across East Africa to boost EAC intra trade. He said there were some Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) at the border entry prompting slow business flow, and called for a harmonized standard of business between Kenya and Tanzania especially on taxes. The traders called for the harmonization of taxes and charges across the region, reduction of weigh bridge costs and punitive fines imposed across borders.
Mathuki said intra trade within EAC stagnantly stands at 15 percent currently projecting a triple digit growth in the next five years to 45 percent. He said EAC is pushing for free movement of goods within EA to reduce the cost of doing business with hope SMEs will either import or export goods following the right channels. EAC Secretariat is set to avail a trade hotline providing cross-border traders with a platform to register their challenges and get prompt feedback, across all EAC border posts.
The Private Sector Federation of Rwanda has expressed confidence in the new secretary-general of the East African Community (EAC) hailing his record as a champion of free trade and conducive business environment across the 6-member bloc. The business leaders released a statement reiterating their faith in Peter Mathuki, the respected Kenyan integration crusader who previously served as executive director of the East African Business Council (EABC).
From unharmonized tax regimes and a stalemate on a litany of non-tariff barriers to continued restrictions of movement of people, goods and services across borders and failure to make progress on a liberalised EAC airspace, the new administration at the EAC secretariat has its work cut out for it.
Ineffective Tech Hinders Agric Output (The Monitor)
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recently conducted training for farmers in the SPEDU region that was aimed at imparting awareness and knowledge on best practice in horticulture technologies for improved output and economic efficiency of farming enterprises targeted at increasing productive capacity of SMMEs in Botswana.
“Farmers do not use best practice farming methods. They do not have access to climate control equipment, access to improved inputs like seeds varieties, fertilisers and, finally, they do not use efficient harvesting and harvest preservation methods,” he said.
“We dream of a Botswana where we will have enough food that we would not need to import from other countries, but that we would become the supplier through some of the trade agreements such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA),” Molebatsi said. He also expressed the government’s commitment towards continuing to foster partnerships between the MITI and UNDP Botswana through programmes such as the SDP. Molebatsi called on all stakeholders involved in the entrepreneurial ecosystem to pull together to ensure synergies in their efforts to build a strong SMME sector in the country.
Innovations set the stage for diaspora remittances growth (Business Daily)
Remittances have been one of the key beneficiaries of digital transformation as members of the diaspora sent funds to their loved ones back home to ride out the ravages of the pandemic. The diaspora has demonstrated its strong attachment to their home countries during this difficult period. As you will recall, there were predictions most notably by the World Bank, that remittances to sub-Saharan African could plummet by over 20 percent.
Several countries as diverse as Comoros, Gambia, Mexico and the Philippines joined Kenya in bucking the predictions with increased remittances in 2020. As we applaud this commendable achievement in the remittances space in 2020, we need to reflect on how to maintain and grow the market to lift livelihoods.
First, is the cost of remittances. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set a target for the cost of remittances of less than three percent by 2030. The cost in sub-Saharan Africa at end of 2020 stood at 8.2 percent, while in Kenya this stood at eight percent. This has come down significantly over the last 10 years from over 15 percent. In Kenya’s case, the adoption of technology and innovation has brought down the costs significantly. This has been facilitated by the multiplicity of remittance channels and products provided by banks and money remittance providers.
The integration of mobile phone financial services in the remittance’s ecosystem has also lowered costs but more importantly allowed for smaller “bite-sized” remittance tickets. While the progress is commendable, a lot more remains to be done to achieve the SDG target. Second, what are the opportunities for growth and are they in cross-border payments systems? Looking to the horizon, it will be critical to connecting our payment systems across the region.
The Vice President, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, has emphasized the importance of a regional food storage system for the ECOWAS subregion in order to ensure food security, peace and accelerated development for the millions of people in West Africa and beyond.
“At a time when the global community, and indeed Africa, is reeling from the continuous threat and ravaging effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, this meeting is timely, and inspires great hope,” he stated. “As we all know, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of our food systems and our agriculture sectors in general. “In the last 7 years, statistics suggests that, people facing food insecurity in the sub region has exploded from two million to 27 million as at the end of our last cropping season. This is unacceptable especially when agriculture offers the best hope of liberating our economies from the chronic malaise that has characterized them over the years.”
“We all know that our countries are endowed with virtually all the resources needed to propel economic development, with agriculture as the major driving force. We have arable land, human resource, water bodies, varieties of food crops and a relatively favorable climate condition. We therefore have no excuses.
“Our economies have strong linkages and therefore there is the need for building synergies in common areas of clear comparative advantage. We need stronger integration of our markets as promoted in the ECOWAS protocol to build the necessary resilience of our economies.
The meeting will be delivered virtually over two days and will centre on the following topics: • Session 1: Private Sector Development: A Balanced Approach to Direct Tax Policy and Administration for Economic Stabilisation.
- Session 2: COVID-19: The Role of Indirect Tax Policy and Administration in mitigating the socio-economic impact of the pandemic.
- Session 3: The Future of Resource Taxation.
- Session 4: Tax Compliance Improvement Frameworks: Policy Issues for enabling access to information by Tax Administrations.
- Session 5: Applying the Science Model to Tax Policies and Administration.
- Session 6: Assessing and Improving the Performance of Tax Systems.
Specialized Technical Committee (STC) on Finance, Monetary Affairs, Economic Planning and Integration : “Developing integrated and complementary value chains for sustainable recovery and reinforcing operationalization of the AfCFTA” | African Union
In 2013, member states of the African Union agreed upon “Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want”, working towards an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena. In line with this vision, developing integrated and complementary value chains for sustainable recovery and reinforcing operationalization of the AfCFTA will expand trade across the continent, which is crucial for Africa’s development.
However, considering how the COVID-19 pandemic has crippled nearly every economy across the globe, there is consensus across the African continent on the need to build a strong and resilient economy to withstand future shocks. This will include developing an integrated and complementary African value chains, for successful operationalization of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
The COVID-19 crisis gave further impetus for the development of digital trade in Africa. As early as March 2020, Africa’s businesses, with government support, were using new technologies that mitigated supply chain disruptions and facilitated trade in essential products such as pharmaceuticals. The creation of a continental e-platform procuring diagnostic tests and medical equipment from certified suppliers on the global market is an example of this. Businesses and populations also strove to adapt to the “new normal” by accelerating their adoption of technologies. In Ghana, more than a third of over 4000 firms surveyed implemented digital solutions during the pandemic.
For these reasons, the 2021 African Union Specialized Technical Committee (STC) on Finance, Monetary Affairs, Economic Planning and Integration will be held under the theme, “Developing Integrated and Complementary Value Chains for sustainable recovery and reinforcing operationalization of the AfCFTA.” The goal is to explore how the African continent can develop an integrated continental value chain to build a resilient economy; how digitalization of the African economy can help firms play a more active role in GVCs; develop the necessary logistics and infrastructure to facilitate international production networks and integration of value chains; and reinforce public and private financing to invest in African value chains.
GBEP is a forum where voluntary cooperation works towards consensus amongst governments, Intergovernmental organizations and other partners in the areas of the bioenergy for sustainable development, climate change mitigation, and food and energy security.
The conference aimed to: (i) review and develop regional Bioenergy policy frameworks, guidelines and action plans for the regional economic communities (RECs) in Africa; (ii) highlight challenges, lessons learned and opportunities in the bioenergy sector from all over the world to stimulate modern bioenergy implementation and replication in Africa; (iii) engage stakeholders on bioenergy best practices to maximize sustainability and contribute to meeting the SDGs and countries’ NDCs; (iv) and facilitate the discourse with the private sector to facilitate a viable bioenergy market in Africa, as well as investments in new bioenergy technologies for local applications.
‘Recognizing that we face a climate urgency, national governments must increase their climate ambition by setting long term, ambitious and stable targets for bioenergy and renewable energy deployment, which is estimated to create an additional 2million green jobs in Africa. Utilising locally available renewable energy resources that Africa is richly endowed witch can alleviate immediate energy challenges, while creating jobs, advancing industrial development and promoting human welfare should be our main goal’ said H.E. Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid, AU Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy.
Practical insights and recommendations for mainstreaming and integrating bioenergy development in the countries’ policy agendas were shared, to ensure environmental sustainability, investment in agriculture and rural development, reduction in health risk through improved clean cooking and energy access.
With objective to agree on a common African position and establish a mechanism to properly communicate the position to responsible institutions and partners. The main objective was to present to the African air transport Ministers the proposed common position paper the issue of vaccine passport and its implication to international travel with the view to make appropriate recommendations. All the participants confirmed their support to the African common position and the roadmap developed by the African Union Commission.
Dr.Amani Abou-Zeid informed the meeting that the various initiatives taken by the AU Department of Infrastructure and Energy in collaboration with African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), Africa CDC, ICAO, AFRAA, IATA and other air transport stakeholders to ensure a sustainable restart and recovery of the African air transport sector are facing important challenges including travel bans and restrictions preventing African citizen to travel toother continents.
Moreover, some developed countries have recently introduced an initiative of green vaccine passports/certificates, making it a mandatory entry requirement for African countries. Ambassador Vincent Banda, ICAO AFI group coordinator also expressed ICAO support to the initiative of AUC and the developed African common position.
African Member States were also encouraged to adopt digital test wherever possible as verifiable health credentials and as a trusted platform for traveller information and to coordinate all the concerned stakeholders to implement the “ Call for action on safe re-opening of borders” developed by the AU Multi-sectorial taskforce on “ Saving lives, saving economies and livelihoods.”
African countries must embrace the concept of good food as good medicine (The Conversation Africa)
Fresh impetus is being directed into identifying and advocating for scientific priorities in the area of food security and nutrition across Africa, with a particular focus on health implications. At the centre of these efforts is a a five-year project initiated by the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Africa, a partnership between the African Academy of Sciences and the African Union Development Agency-NEPAD. This project aims to identify the continent’s most urgent research and development questions, and to advocate for investments in these areas. This will go a long way in helping the continent achieve its vision of transforming lives through science.
A survey was designed for this round table to prioritise research and development questions relating to food security and nutrition. This survey attracted comments and engagement from more than 1,000 experts globally.
The experts made it clear that what is needed is a prioritisation of the health and medicinal values of the food that’s consumed in African countries. In turn, this will spur more research and development of new supplements and phytomedicines – that is, plant-based therapies and medicines – across the continent. This approach has been successful elsewhere, most notably in China. The Asian country has invested heavily in training young practitioners of Chinese traditional medicine, who work with, among other things, plant-based therapies and phytomedicines. The Chinese government has also spent a great deal on manufacturing phytomedicines.
“Let’s unblock the bottlenecks that are holding back potential by increasing coordination and upskilling human capacity in African nations”, urged QU Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Speaking at the launch of FAO’s latest report, Public Expenditure on Food and Agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa, he added that funds must also be unlocked and public finance systems streamlined, “so that the scarce resources we have do not go unspent”.
Marco Sánchez, Deputy Director of FAO’s Agri-food Economics Division, outlined research showing that technical efficiency in agriculture, increases dramatically as spending nears $80 per capita. And while it begins to taper off after that, most African countries come nowhere near that amount.
According to the report, the lion’s share of national expenditure on food and agriculture in Africa subsidizes fertilizer, tools and other inputs, which Mr. Sánchez said tend to exhibit diminishing returns over time.
Global law firm Baker McKenzie’s report New Dynamics: Shifting Patterns in Africa’s Infrastructure Funding reflects the state of African infrastructure and how major global players’ approach to infrastructure lending on the continent is changing. Analysing new data from IJ Global, the report shows a decline in the value of infrastructure lending, the region is known for its resilience and it is expected that as economies recover, new types of financing will be unlocked. The report’s data shows that multilateral and bilateral lending into Africa has declined. Investment levels fell successively in 2019 and 2020 compared to peak levels seen after the financial crises. In 2019, bilateral and multilateral lending into Africa amounted to $55billion, which drops to $31billion in 2020. Over the last six years, the decline is significant. Deal values dropped from $100billion in 2014 to $31billion in 2020.
The slowdown in infrastructure investment was attributed to a number of factors, including the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. South Africa and Nigeria’s economies have contracted, meaning Sub-Sahara’s two largest economies have not been feeding in growth as in previous years.
Africa lost its natural resources during the past (1st, 2nd, and 3rd) industrial revolutions and this trend will continue, during the 4th Industrial Revolution, unless something is done about it. During the 4th Industrial Revolution, the African continent will not lose natural resources but virtual resources such as its data and information that will be key during this era. In response, the South African government is starting to do something about this imminent threat to the future of the African Digital economy. On 1 April 2021, the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, published a Draft National Data and Cloud Policy (Draft Policy) together with an invitation for interested parties to submit written submissions to the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies within 30 business days of publication of the Draft Policy, by 18 May 2021.
Why such a policy intervention is necessary? In what sense are African countries, including South Africa, likely to lose their resources?
Governing Council Meeting of the WCO East and Southern Africa Region (World Customs Organization)
In his opening remarks, Secretary General Mikuriya expressed his sincere gratitude to the Regional Vice-Chair for the invitation to take part in the Meeting and highlighted the role played by the WCO in supporting the ESA region during this challenging time. He went on to describe the WCO’s immediate priorities as outlined in the COVID-19 Action Plan for the next 18 months, from January 2021 to June 2022, and elaborated on the Organization’s new working methods through a brief presentation.
Prior to the official opening of the Governing Council Meeting, the Heads of all the ESA Customs Administrations were joined by Dr. Mikuriya to watch footage of the virtual signing ceremony for a Host Country Agreement, which took place on 3 May 2021, conferring legal status to the Regional Office for Capacity Building (ROCB) ESA, located in Nairobi, Kenya.
In his closing remarks, Secretary General Mikuriya joined the Vice-Chair to thank the ESA Heads of Customs for taking part in the Meeting. He took note of the points raised during the discussions in relation to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement and migration to the Harmonized System (HS) 2022, and assured the audience of the WCO’s continuous support and assistance through the delivery of capacity building projects and programmes.
This May, the African Development Bank Group is launching a call for proposals for projects enhancing the viability and sustainability of women entrepreneurship enablers. Women’s business associations, incubators, accelerators, and cooperatives that advance women’s entrepreneurship, can apply for funding for innovative projects or programs to bolster the skills of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) owned and run by women across Africa, the Bank announced.
“Women business enablers are critical to creating a viable enabling environment in which women entrepreneurs can grow and create businesses that generate jobs for the continent. Through the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa initiative, the Bank is committed to supporting enablers to strengthen the business and financial skills as well as wealth-creating capacity of their members,” said Esther Dassanou, manager of the program, also known as AFAWA.
Horn of Africa: EU to deepen strategic relationship with the region (European Council)
The Council today approved conclusions affirming the EU’s commitment to give new impetus to its partnership with the Horn of Africa, and establishing a new strategy for the region. A geo-strategic priority for the EU in Africa, the Horn of Africa region has undergone unprecedented developments over the last years and is now at a crossroads. With this new strategy, EU’s intention is to further strengthen and deepen its strategic relationship and partnership with the Horn of Africa and its countries, notably with a view to reduce instability, promote democracy and sustainable growth.
China supports Africa’s recovery through vaccine cooperation (Global Times)
Egyptian Health Minister Hala Zayed on Sunday revealed that the country will start manufacturing China’s Sinovac COVID-19 vaccines locally in June, becoming the first country in Africa to have the production capacity for the badly-needed vaccines. Zayed said that the first 2 million doses will be produced in June, and 40 million doses will be produced in the first year, according to the Xinhua News Agency. This marks a new milestone for cooperation between China and Africa during this once-in-a-century global health crisis. Such cooperation will greatly help the continent’s epidemic prevention and economic recovery. In stark contrast, some in the Western world are busy hoarding vaccines.
Moving vaccine manufacturing to Africa will reduce the cost of logistics and storage and help level up the accessibility and effectiveness of vaccines in the continent, especially when many regions in the world are witnessing resurgence of the virus and the fallout of the epidemic in Africa has kept emerging.
Moreover, the move will help boost economic recovery of local partners and the broad continent by exploring new industrial capacity cooperation with China. Vaccine production can also serve as a model for further capacity cooperation between the two sides during the post-pandemic era.
Digitisation offers Africa rare resilience (Business Daily)
The Covid-19 pandemic offers Africa the chance to leapfrog development through digitisation, and potentially position itself as a global digital powerhouse. And while the private sector has an important role to play in this development, governments have a critical role to play in enabling digitisation, through infrastructure development, but also in digitising their own systems and processes using regulatory and legal tools.
Developments such as the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) reinforce the urgent need for governments to digitise to enable not just trade, but positive economic growth across the continent. In its report Reopening and Reimagining Africa, McKinsey notes that governments will play a key role in fostering an enabling environment for digitisation, including ensuring that the regulatory and legislative environments support digitisation. Governments can step up the provision of digital services and information, and use digital tools to collect, manage and use data to inform decision-making.
The TBT Agreement aims to ensure that technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment procedures are non-discriminatory and do not create unnecessary obstacles to trade. At the same time, it recognises WTO members’ right to implement measures to achieve legitimate policy objectives, such as the protection of human health and safety, or protection of the environment. The booklet focuses on members’ compliance with notification requirements under the TBT Agreement and the concerns raised in the TBT Committee, often in response to these notifications. Governments are required to “notify” other members, through the WTO Secretariat, of proposed measures that may have a significant effect on other members’ trade and that are not in accordance with relevant international standards.
Bridging the Digital Divide Will Save Our Planet (Inter Press Service)
Data, analysis and information are essential building blocks in our race to save humanity from the clear and present risks posed by the climate crisis. We are headed on a crash course with oblivion, and we need take definitive and far-reaching action if we are going to protect our people and our planet from the devastating impacts of rising seas, spiking temperatures, extreme weather and other climate impacts that are derailing human, social and economic development worldwide.
The only problem is that we live in a world of digital haves and have nots. Simply put, we must bridge the digital divide and we must build more effective and actionable climate risk assessments if we are going to save humanity from the truly existential risk of this vast and complicated crisis.
While we are making progress in improving our ability to model climate change, there are still large gaps in the overlay of vulnerability, environmental and weather data that hinder our ability to accurately assess future risks and build effective models at the local, regional and global levels.
Commodities boom sends bulk shipping costs to decade highs (Financial Times)
Rates for ships carrying commodities that fuel global industries and keep the world fed have soared, raising hopes of a turnround in fortunes for the embattled dry bulk shipping sector. “The stars are aligned for dry bulk,” said Lasse Kristoffesen, chief executive of Norwegian carrier Torvald Klaveness. The sector has been plagued by an overcapacity of ships since the 2008-9 financial crisis, despite robust demand growth for raw materials. The pandemic-induced drop in commodity markets last year piled on the misery, but now soaring demand for raw materials as the world recovers has helped transform dry bulk’s fortunes. “For all big commodity shipping, it has been a lost decade,” said Kristofessen. “It has been a depressed market and returns have not been sufficient, largely due to the fact that we were ordering vessels like there was no tomorrow. It has taken 10 years to wash that out of the system.”
The head of the World Trade Organisation said on Monday she hoped that by December the body’s members will have reached a “pragmatic” solution over whether to waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said she saw “movement on both sides” - referring to proponents of a waiver and those who have objections - and was hopeful of a framework agreement on the waiver issue, technological transfers and better access to vaccines for developing countries. December was “an outer limit,” for such a deal, the WTO director-general said at a briefing with journalists during a visit to Italy, which this year chairs the Group of 20 rich nations.
Intellectual Property, COVID-19 Vaccines, and the Proposed TRIPS Waiver - AAF (American Action Forum)
In October 2020, India and South Africa requested the World Trade Organization (WTO) suspend certain intellectual property (IP) protections for COVID-19 vaccines and related products. Both countries claim these IP protections, part of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), have slowed production of and access to COVID-19 vaccines. As of May 2021, over 100 countries, mostly in the developing world, have joined India and South Africa in calling for a waiver of TRIPS for COVID-19 vaccines and related products. At the same time, a handful of developed nations—specifically the European Union, Switzerland, Norway, Australia, Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom—have signaled their opposition to a waiver.
The recent proposal submitted by India and South Africa and signed on by over 100 developing countries would waive four specific protections of COVID-19 vaccines and related medical products and services: Copyrights; Patents; Trademarks; and Undisclosed information procedures.
The primary justification for waiving TRIPS is that IP protections cause underutilized manufacturing capacity. By removing TRIPS, developing nations could copy patented drugs and use their own manufacturers to produce vaccines, thereby increasing access. This rationale, however, is flawed. Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India—currently the largest producer of COVID-19 vaccine doses in the world—has argued that access to IP is not limiting vaccine production, rather it is the time involved in scaling up manufacturing capacity. It should also be noted that Moderna has already pledged not to enforce its own COVID-19 vaccine patents during the pandemic.
In an exclusive interview with ANI, Swaminathan said: “WHO strongly believes that the TRIPS waiver that has been proposed by India and South Africa should be done. DG Tedros has often spoken about this. This is not the time to worry about patents and profits amid the pandemic.”
Trade experts say WTO negotiations on a waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines could take months - provided they can overcome significant opposition from some member countries. Pointing that this time is crucial, Dr Swaminath said: “So yes, we would like to see that happening very quickly at the WTO that needs to be also accompanied by a technology transfer because vaccines are complex things to manufacture and it will take a long time for a company to learn from scratch if a patent is not implemented.”
Although the WHO Chief Scientist did not predict the timeline of the waiver due to negotiations, she suggested that there is no need to wait for it and to start the technology transfer in a voluntary way.