Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Day 2 of Public Forum looks at why trade matters to Africa


Day 2 of Public Forum looks at why trade matters to Africa

Day 2 of Public Forum looks at why trade matters to Africa
Photo credit: WTO

The plenary session of the second day of the WTO Public Forum offered trade facilitation, regional integration and development of small and medium-sized enterprises as some of the elements that would help foster fair and inclusive growth in Africa. Liberia’s Commerce and Industry Minister Axel Addy said that economic development of Africa was “only a matter of time”.

Keynote address

Director-General Roberto Azevêdo delivered the keynote address on Day 2 of the Public Forum on “why trade matters to Africa”. Reiterating the key messages from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Deputy President of Kenya, William Ruto, on Day 1 of the Forum, DG Azevêdo highlighted Africa’s potential for growth and the role that trade can play in realizing this.

Mr Azevêdo emphasized that the very existence of an international trading system creates a stable, predictable and transparent business environment which supports growth and development in Africa. The WTO’s Aid for Trade initiative can play an important role, given that Africa is its largest beneficiary, and the full implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement can help to integrate Africa and cut the costs of trading significantly. His full speech is available here.

Plenary debate: What trade means for Africa

The moderator, Julie Gichuru, opened the debate with a short account of African history. She pointed out that a newly independent continent had started out rather optimistically on the basis of a regional integration and trade agenda in the 1950s but somewhere down the line countries had faltered and lost their way. She encouraged the panel to analyse what had gone wrong and what needed to be done to bring Africa back to a new growth trajectory.

Axel Addy, Liberia’s Minister of Commerce and Industry, said that economic transformation in Africa was inevitable but would take time. He insisted that there is a misplaced pessimism with respect to the continent’s speed of development and compared it to the growth witnessed in western countries, where it took centuries for people to build the nations they currently inhabit. He highlighted the new respect for the culture of governance that the continent has acquired, and stated that peace and development would not be reversed in Africa, and that economic development was only a matter of time.

Paul Brenton, Lead Economist at the World Bank, said he saw enormous potential for trade and integration in the region and that its realization was the Bank’s priority. While there was particular potential for trade in agriculture, an emerging trade in the manufacturing sector was generating a lot of jobs. In terms of trade-related infrastructure, he said that more liberalization and predictability were required. Building capacity for trade is important, as is the implementation of trade facilitating measures. He observed that the main beneficiaries would be small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the poorest people in the region.

Frank Matsaert, CEO of Trademark East Africa, said that farmers were producing sufficient quantities but were not aware of how or where to sell their produce. To this end, technological innovation is of immense importance to the poorest and most marginalized of producers. He observed that the reality on the ground is quite different to what is portrayed in the media. While people speak of Africa as a market for extractives, the continent has been riding on the wave of a services and construction boom.

Issam Chleuh, Founder and CEO of Africa Impact Group, said that investment was of particular importance to Africa. Investment in businesses could also have social benefits. He added that there was a need to further integrate the continent, to form regional partnerships and to create value chains to realize maximum economic gains.

Razia Khan, Managing Director of Africa Macro Global Research at Standard Chartered, said that African economies had grown considerably. She praised the above-average economic performance of the region compared with global growth. However, she recognized that while trade had been successful in addressing poverty in Asia, African countries had not benefited from inclusive growth. She said that a focus on SMEs must be renewed so that high economic growth is translated into better outcomes for society.

Closing the discussion, DG Azevêdo said that stability is extremely important for Africa as it would help to attract investment and lead to greater economic growth. Infrastructure, both physical and institutional, needs to be strengthened. He said that Africa has an important voice in global issues and that it is sure to achieve growth and become more competitive.


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