Closing Plenary - The Way Forward

Photo - From L to R: Stephen Ruzibiza, CEO, Rwanda Private Sector Federation, Dr. Hannah Tetteh, UN Office to the AU, Amany Asfour, AU PAFTRAC, Mary Beth Leonard, U.S. State Department, Kyeh Kim, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Heather Lanigan, U.S. Trade and Development Agency

 

On February 12, the Corporate Council for Africa (CCA) and the US Mission to the African Union co-hosted the U.S. – Africa Trade and Investment Forum in Addis Ababa. More than 300 people attended from more than 30 countries, including senior government representatives from the United States, the AU, Egypt, Madagascar, Rwanda, Mauritius, Sudan, Ethiopia, Niger, South Africa and Benin. Senior executives from more than 50 U.S. and African companies also attended.

 

Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard moderated the closing panel, and asked participants to reflect on the day’s deliberations while offering suggestions for the future. OPIC, TDA and MCC officials all suggested ways that their offices were building connections between U.S. and African countries, and suggested various ways to increase those efforts. OPIC noted its Connect Africa program, which is looking to expand cooperation in infrastructure, while TDA stressed the importance of working on aviation and digital economy projects. MCC described its exciting new cross-border programs that will open up new opportunities to support exactly the kind of regional infrastructure projects that several speakers during the day called for to expand the impact of the AfCFTA.

 

Dr. Amany Asfour suggested that African countries should work on three priority areas to make the most out of the AfCFTA: supporting private-sector led growth; putting in place the right government policies to support companies; and seeing African companies improve the quality of their products to reach international standards. She stressed that the AfCFTA won’t happen on the ground without empowering private companies, including getting them more involved in regional and global value chains. She noted that the COMESA Business Council has helped develop 480 local small and medium enterprises to the point that they are now supplying multi-national companies on a regular basis.  In terms of policy, she encouraged governments to do more to support cross-border trading and facilitate the smooth crossing and tracking of trucks across the continent, as well as investing in road, rail, ports and ICT. She concluded by stressing it is very important for companies to upgrade the quality of their goods to meet what international companies are looking for and become truly competitive.

 

Dr. Hannah Tetteh noted that the AU will soon see the 22 countries required to ratify the AfCFTA.  However, important steps will still need to be taken, including negotiating important protocols on trade in goods, rules of origin and services.  Individual countries will also need to adopt effective strategies to implement the necessary policies to make the AfCFTA effective on the ground.While very optimistic about the long-term prospects of the impact of the AfCFTA, she cautioned that some hard work remains to be done.

 

Stephen Ruzibiza, CEO of the Rwandan Private Sector Foundation stressed the importance of companies working together with governments. At the end of the day, the future will really depend on private companies succeeding in Africa, and that Africa’s future is no longer a question of receiving aid. He noted that much of the trade between African countries comes from the informal sector, often women running very small companies. This highlights the importance of reducing practical barriers that make that trade hard across borders. He encouraged the private sector to increase its focus on identifying and helping remove those barriers, while also boosting employment. He echoed the calls to upgrade products to meet international standards, and suggested that the real issue isn’t a competition between the U.S. and China, but really is a question about which companies are making the most effective impact.