UNECA SME Roundtable - U.S.-Africa Business Summit 2022

UNECA SME Roundtable
July 21, 2022


On Thursday, July 21, 2022, the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) hosted a roundtable discussion with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) on the challenges and opportunities facing small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The event was moderated by UNECA trade policy expert Nadia Hasham and convened SME owners, international organizations, development finance institutions, and public sector figures to discuss the role of SMEs in the U.S.-Africa relationship. 

The panel was opened by moderator Nadia Hasham, Africa trade policy expert at UNECA, who focused on the importance of moving Africa beyond primary goods production in global value chains and on facilitating intra-African continental linkages. She also highlighted the importance of mitigating the impact of the Russian offensive in Ukraine on African SMEs and on potential African involvement in green value chains.

Speaker Vanessa Adams of USAID highlighted the importance of SMEs to the African economy- they account for 85% of the continent’s jobs. She also highlighted that most African SMEs are informal and therefore face distinct challenges when compared to larger businesses.  Her focus for the future was on simplifying the trade barriers facing SMEs and removing tariffs on the African continent. Koubourath Bara, General Manager of Target Afrik Negoce, agreed and emphasized that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) would have especially large benefits for SMEs. She also suggested that SMEs collaborate by forming co-operatives to reap the benefits of scale.

Moderator Nadia Hasham then focused discussion the topic of “utilizing African innovation.” Sally Nhlanhla of the Village Foundation, a South African nonprofit, focused on the importance of ensuring that good African ideas get scaled up. Mahlet Girma, trade analyst at UNECA, spoke on some of her work in supporting African nations in developing AfCFTA implementation strategies. She said that some of the most impactful policies include ensuring that entrepreneurs and SME owners understand the benefits of AfCFTA and are able to navigate the requirements to participate in international trade.

Other participants in the roundtable shared their personal experiences in owning and operating SMEs in Africa. Important issues that were discussed included problems with infrastructure in rural areas, the difficulties SMEs have in participating in global trade, and the importance of expanding storage capacity for perishable goods to enable farmers to adopt longer-term horizons.

This event was part of CCA’s U.S.-Africa Business Summit, held in Marrakesh under the high patronage of His Majesty King Mohammed VI of Morocco. The 2022 Summit had the theme “Building Forward Together” and explored a renewed commitment by both public and private stakeholders to building stronger U.S. and Africa trade, investment, and commercial ties as they both emerge from unprecedented health and economic challenges.