By Maimbolwa MulikelelaTHE just ended edition of the Intra-African Trade Fair demonstrated the continent’s capacity to trade and invest among itself.
The Fair attracted 11,828 attendees from across Africa with US$36 billion worth of trade and investment deals being concluded.
The event offered unrivalled business opportunities and commercial opportunities for Zambian companies that participated at the Fair.
Represented by eight companies, two Zambian firms Harvest Group of Companies and Othniel Brooks International Limited sealed a financing deal worth US$310 million with the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) to help build the country’s three strategic fuel reserves.
This will reduce the cost of fuel in Zambia and create product security.
Furthermore, companies like the Kafue Gorge Regional Training Institute were actively searching for potential investors and financing worth US$60 million to support their energy infrastructure projects.
On the other hand, the Zambia Development Agency (ZDA) strategically positioned itself to market the country’s investment and trade profile, projecting to woo investments worth US$20 million.
At the exhibition stands, Zambia was represented by Mpulungu Harbour Corporation Limited, Zambia-China Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone (ZCCZ), and Marcopolo Titles Company Limited, ZALCO.
Other firms include Harvest Group of Companies, Othniel Brooks International Limited, Lusaka Telecom Solutions, and Kafue Gorge Regional Training Center.
Organised by Afreximbank in collaboration with the African Union (AU) and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat in Durban, South Africa, the IATF2021 kicked off with spectacular fanfare on November 15 this month.
Under the theme “Building Bridges for a successful AfCFTA”, the fair attracted thousands of visitors at the Durban International Convention Centre on its Opening Day.
In a formidable demonstration of pan-African leadership support for the Intra- African Trade Fair, underscoring its importance and beneficial impact in driving dramatic trade growth and investment across Africa, its opening ceremony was addressed by seven African Heads of States.
These included South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, Zambia’s Hakainde Hichilema, Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, and former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Malawi’s Lazarus Chakwera, Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa, and former Tazanian President Hussein Mwinyi representing Samia Suluhu Hassan.
And Rwanda Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente, attended the event representing Paul Kagame.
With President Hichilema saying that Intra-African trade should be meaningful to individual countries and be used as an important tool for sustainable economic growth.
He says free trade area should be able to identify the key priorities and infrastructure that would be required to efficiently and effectively trade among countries in the region.
Priorities should include the basics such as ensuring that the safety of the drivers transporting goods across the continent is safe.
“This event is critical to our continent as we progress towards integrating to the AfCFTA, which is extremely important to the development of our individual countries through trade and investment,” Mr Hichilema said.
The President indicated that Zambia looks forward to the opportunities that will be realised from having a single market for goods and services aimed at boosting trade and investments for the mutual benefits of the countries.
“We must ensure that the African Free Trade is meaningful to all our people across Africa …meaningful for inclusive economic growth, jobs and business opportunities in our individual countries,” he says.
Trade is a tool that will create wealth and lift many of the citizens across the continent inclusive of Zambia out of poverty.
He says Zambia is committed to the enhancing Intra-Africa trade and this was evidence by the presence of government leaders and the business community present here at the event.
South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa indicated that the implementation of the AfCFTA was critical to promoting trade and investment across the continent.
He urged countries to fully support the implementation of the AfCFTA for the sustainable economic growth in the region.
Mr Ramaphosa said finance should be made available to all countries for industrialisation and improve the agriculture sectors.
“South Africa stands ready to work closely with all African countries to forge more balanced equitable Intra trade relations among African nations,” he says.
Therefore, Afreximbank President Benedict Oramah says developing internal readiness and capacity of local economy to realities of the AfCFTA is imperative to realising the gains from trade agreement.
This will create cross-border sub-national partnerships could yield an even more significant benefit.
Professor Oramah says such relationships could help build competitive industry and trade sectors.
The African Sub-Sovereign Government Network was proposed as a platform to promote socio-economic cooperation amongst the Africa sub-national governments within a continental framework.
Meanwhile, Afreximbank will disburse US$40 billion to support Intra-African trade over the next five years.
Professor Oramah says this will build from the US$20 billion disbursed in the past five years.
“We are also providing Letters of Credit Confirmation lines to African commercial banks to support cross border trade.
“It is our aim to onboard 500 banks with aggregate lines of more than US$8 billion,” Professor Oramah says.
The bank has so far on boarded nearly 480, stating that the Afreximbank has widest massaging links with African banks.
Prof Oramah indicated that they have worked with the AU and AfCFTA secretariat, to create a Pan-African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS) to facilitate cross-border payments in national currencies.
The System, which was currently piloting in the West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ), will strengthen national currencies, integrate Africa’s payment infrastructure, and save the continent about US$5 billion in transfer charges.
This will return to Africa, large volumes of trade diverted away from the continent due to currency issues.
Professor Oramah indicated that Afreximbank was supporting the pilot in an amount of US$500 million and expects to expand this to US$3billion when fully adopted across Africa.
“We are piloting an African Collaborative Transit Guarantee Scheme that will facilitate an uninterrupted flow of goods across multiple borders with a single transit bond, operating on a risk-sharing platform with country-specific issuers.
“Afreximbank is committing US$1 billion to the Scheme, and envisage that this Scheme will save the continent over US$300 million in transit cost annually,” Professor Oramah says.
However, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo calls for the creation of an emblematic “Made-in-Africa brand that will promote Intra African trade and boost international export of African products.
Mr Obasanjo says having a “Made-in-Africa” brand will instil a sense of pride in each African country.
He says the AfCFTA is working to remove the divisions that were brought about by colonialism, where Africa has been divided into regions based on the languages of the colonisers.
Mr Obasanjo says the shared vision of the IATF2021 participants and the traders at 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,” he says.
About 46 African countries were represented at this year IATF in Durban, South Africa, with 59 nations participating in the trade fair.