December 11-17, 2018 at the Egypt International Exhibition Center in Cairo, all 55 African countries will converge for the first edition of the Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF). This is an initiative of the Africa Export Import Bank (Afreximbank) in collaboration with the African Union (AU) and supported by other partners around the world including the World Trade Center Miami.
Afreximbank, the convener of the trade fair, intends to use this platform to address the market information gap which in part is responsible for poor regional trade in Africa. Building a platform which provides access to the exchange of trade and market information will support the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area. The Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) currently being negotiated aims to establish an open market for goods, services and business persons within the continent. Even though the CFTA agreement has been signed by about eighty percent of the countries in Africa, the road to its full implementation is still far ahead.
The process of market and economic integration is complicated everywhere in the world and particularly in Africa where poor levels of industrialization and openness, lack of dispute management mechanisms and intellectual property protections remain major roadblocks. Nevertheless, market integration is extremely important and in fact, a survival strategy for Africa. From Cape to Cairo, the continent is too fragmented in many ways – the economy, landscape and logistics, to make any meaningful improvement on economic development and hinterland connectivity.
The good news is, despite all the challenges associated with doing business in Africa, economic integration is already happening through African corporate entrepreneurs and multinational corporations. A report on “Pioneering One Africa” by the Boston Consulting Group named 150 companies, 75 African companies and 75 multinational companies who are driving the Pan-African market and economic integration.
African airlines, financial institutions, telecoms operators and media companies are accelerating intra-African connectivity and market integration by expanding their operational network to many countries across Africa. Over the last decade, Africa has seen growth in the number of air routes by local airlines, bank branch network and telecommunications operations. For example, Ethiopian airlines serves about 40 destinations in the region while the United Bank for Africa (UBA) has branches in 19 African countries. The progress being made by these companies shows that a continental single market for Africa is not impossible.
To continue the market and economic integration pioneered by these local and multinational companies, a multi-dimensional approach is required by all stakeholders. One approach which has proven to be an effective tool for trade development is trade fairs where businesses engage face to face. The Intra-African Trade Fair will help African countries to develop closer economic ties and harmonize their regulatory procedures thereby leading to increased global and regional trade.
The multi-sector Intra-African Trade Fair anticipates over $25 billion worth of trade and investment deals from 70,000 attendees featuring country pavilions for African and non-African countries. Other sideline events include engagement sessions with leaders and top government officials.
The trade fair is a gateway into the African single market of over one billion people. It will not only boost trade within Africa, American companies and other global market players can leverage this unprecedented market entry opportunity to grow their network and expand business interests to Africa.
Kemi Arosanyin is a Global Trade contributor and Director, Africa Trade Expansion Program at the World Trade Center Miami. She writes, speaks, and advises on trade and investment in sub-Saharan Africa.