By Moses Nosike

To set Africa firmly on the path towards economic and social transformation, the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), heralding what will be the biggest free trade area globally, is crucial.

The 2nd edition of the Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF) kicked off on a high note in Durban, South Africa, providing a platform for information exchange, business networking and sustainably addressing the gap in trade and market information for the successful realization of the AfCFTA objectives.

The Trade Fair promoted by Afrexim Bank and sponsored by Dangote and Oando PLC, focused on the newly-launched AfCFTA – a single market for goods and services across 55 countries, aimed at boosting trade and investment, and the role of state and non-state actors in realizing these goals. One salient point echoed across board through the course of the event – the private sector is crucial to the actualization of AfCFTA.

President Muhammadu Buhari led the Nigerian delegation to the event including, the Former President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo; and key private sector leaders – Group Chief Executive, Oando PLC, Adewale Tinubu; Founder of the Silverbird Group, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce amongst others.

Addressing the Heads of States and industry captains, President Buhari expressed optimism that the creation of the biggest free trade area in the world, the AfCFTA, will work, especially with the active collaboration of the public and private sectors. Commenting on Nigeria’s participation at the event, He said “Let me assure you that Nigeria has come to Durban in full force to actively participate in this very important trade fair and take full advantage of all the opportunities it provides. We have streamlined the country’s participation under one roof to enable you to access all the information you need.”

Speaking on a high-level public-private sector roundtable focused on aligning the interests of government and the private sector on intra-African trade and investment, the Group Chief Executive, Oando PLC explained that public-private partnership in Nigeria has solid support from the government. He said: “When we wanted to create indigenous success stories – an enabling environment was provided for us via local context and access to opportunities. We were able to create a collaborative approach by creating policies that worked without ruling out opportunities. For example, we built extensive gas pipelines within the country, and we had the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) set up appropriate financial structures. I believe the same principles apply on a continental scale, in the sense that the president has set lofty ideal for us regarding international trade.”

At the beginning of this year, African countries officially began trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which aims to bring together 1.3 billion people in a $3.4 trillion economic bloc. The AfCFTA is the largest free trade area since the establishment of the World Trade Organization. Economists say the trade zone could lift tens of millions out of poverty over the next 15 years.

In a panel session themed; Optimising the gains of the AfCFTA in the context of the fourth industrial revolution, Dr. Ainojie Irune, the Chief Operating Officer, Oando Energy Resources, highlighted that re-skilling and educations of the future workforce is critical to creating the much-needed foundation to ensure Africa isn’t left behind. The panel discussed the policy and regulatory framework required to develop digital ecosystems, that will encourage significant economic growth and development in Africa. He spoke alongside Ms. Shamira Ahmed, Trade Specialist and Senior Economist, Research ICT Africa; Hon. Ebrahim Patel, Minister of Trade and Industry, Republic of South Africa; Mr. Dare Okoudjou, Founder and CEO, MFS Africa; Dr. Hippolyte Fofack, Chief Economist and Director, Research and International Cooperation, Afreximbank.

READ ALSO: Oando begins settlement with Mangal, tops trading on NGX

Digitalisation and its attendant disruptive technologies are fundamentally changing existing business models, production processes, value chains, skills development and trade across the world. With the AfCFTA forecast to increase intra-African trade from its current 16% to as much as 50% by 2040, digitalisation can play a catalytic role in unlocking intra-African trade, to enhance regional integration and reduce the dependence on commodities by increasing diversification into new and value-added products and play a major role in trade facilitation.

The third day of the Intra-African Trade Fair 2021 (IATF2021) ended with a clarion call by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo for the creation of an emblematic Made-in-Africa brand that will promote intra-African trade and boost the international export of African products.

Among the recommendations made by Chief Obasanjo, is the need to strengthen the capacity of the African Private Sector to have a “Made in Africa” products that are competitive, value-adding, standardized and of high quality, and the promotion of the “Made in Africa” products to increase Intra-Africa Trade and particularly following the start of trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). He said that the AfCFTA was working to remove the divisions that were brought about by colonialism, where Africa had been divided into regions based on the languages of the colonisers. According to him, the shared vision of IATF2021 participants and the traders at the Trade Fair is what will bring the AfCFTA to life.

“I have been impressed by the interaction of people at the IATF. People are working together, and this creates the environment in which miracles can happen,” declared Chief Obasanjo.

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.