THE Cairo-based African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) holds its 24th Annual General Meeting from June 28 to July 1 in Kigali, Rwanda. In this exclusive interview Afreximbank’s chief economist, Hippolyte Fofack, spoke to Africa Briefing’s Stephen Williams, about this major event.
Mr Fofack, please could you outline just why this AGM is so important and who will be in attendance?
HF: In addition to shareholders of the Bank, we are expecting senior government officials, Ministers, and Central Bank Governors from across Africa. In addition, we expect the CEOs of major banks, DFIs, non-bank private/public sector players and NGOs from across the continent.
Participants can anticipate a strong participation from the academic community and experts from other regions of the world, and the opportunity to tap into the latest thinking on Africa’s development.
Afrexim Bank has gone some way in stimulating the positive growth of African economies, despite a very challenging environment. How has this success been achieved?
HF: Primarily through the support and contribution of several key stakeholders, most notably our clients, partners and associates, with whom we carried out mutually beneficial transactions or worked closely to advance the process of growth and structural transformation of African economies through trade. The resilience of the institution in a challenging environment of heightened volatility and large-scale withdrawal of international banks from the continent also reflects the strength of the Bank and its continued relevance.
In particular, the Countercyclical Trade Liquidity Facility approved by the Board of the Bank at the height of the commodity terms of trade shocks enabled the Bank to help its member countries bridge the significant trade financing gap confronting them and achieve orderly adjustments.
In an interesting departure from previous AGMs, this year features a number of knowledge-sharing events on the sidelines of the meeting. Can you provide some details?
HF: Yes, we are excited to include a meeting of the Bank’s Advisory Group on Trade Finance and Export Development in Africa, and other very important seminars. These events will provide an opportunity for participants to explore prospects for accelerating the process of economic development and structural transformation of African economies through trade. While the overall theme of the 2017 AGM is “Trade and Economic Transformation”, the principal focus of this year’s Advisory Group Meeting will be “Expanding African Trade in a World of Rising Protectionism.”
The choice of these themes is informed by the role played by trade, both extra- and intra-regional, in the process of growth and economic development even in the face of creeping protectionism and sustained deterioration of terms of trade experienced by African commodity-dependent economies over the last few years.
The themes of the seminar all provide the opportunity to explore options for drawing on economies of scale offered by intra-African trade to sustain African trade and growth in a challenging global environment of contracting global demand and declining trade finance.
‘Trade as a Catalyst for Industrialising Africa’ is the main theme of learning events, exploring the dynamic interaction between trade and industrialisation, drawing on lessons from successful economies; “Boosting Intra-African Trade for Regional Integration” is also a theme of a learning event planned during the second day, highlighting the role that regional integration could play in helping African countries achieve economies of scale and build regional value chains as a path to global value chains – the new drivers of global growth and trade.
We will also examine ‘Expanding African Trade in a World of Rising Protectionism’, reflecting the challenging global trade and economic environment of creeping protectionism and contraction in global demands which have continued to weigh on growth prospects during the fiscal year.
The session will provide the opportunity for African leaders and international experts to explore options and policies for sustaining African trade and growth in a challenging global economic environment where commodities terms of trade deterioration are set on a durable decline.
Other relevant sessions will include: ‘The role of trade facilitation in boosting intra-African trade’, and ‘Financing intra-African trade in a context of multiple currencies and regulatory framework’. The latter session will explore the role of mobile payments and settlement platforms in financing African trade. Of course, we will be examining options for boosting African trade that reflect on the role that Export-Import Banks and Export Credit Agencies can play.
Your Bank has long argued for the establishment of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) that will position the African continent as an open free trade zone and custom union. How will the meeting take this aspiration forward?
HF: The African Leaders Roundtable Plenary session within the AGM will provide an opportunity for key African leaders to reflect on policies and strategic options to accelerate implementation of the CFTA in a world where the rise of mega-regional trade agreements could increase competition and lead to preference erosion for African countries that are not part of either existing or emerging mega-regional trade initiatives.
But it is not just Africa’s political leaders who will be attending the session on the CFTA. Can you confirm that the AGM will also bring together prominent business leaders who are championing cross-border trade and investments within Africa?
HF: We are inviting a number of highly influential business leaders to participate, including Aliko Dangote (Chairman of Dangote Group), Mahesh Patel (Chairman of Export Trading Group), Eng. Ahmed El Sewedy (President and CEO, El Sewedy Industries), Bassem Loukil (CEO and President, Loukil Investment Group), Christopher Kirubi (CEO and Chairman, the Capital Group), and Paul Fokam (President and Chairman, Afriland First Bank Group).
In addition, the Government of Rwanda, its private sector and the Bank will organise an Investment Forum and Trade Exhibition on the theme: “Investment Opportunities to Deepen Integration within the East African Community” throughout the event. This Forum will showcase investment opportunities in Rwanda and more generally within the East African region where important steps have been taken recently to accelerate integration within the East African Community.
The Investment Forum will provide the opportunity for Rwandese corporates to attract both foreign direct investment and Africa’s direct investments.
The interest in the event has been very strong and we are expecting a large number of participants this year, not just from all member countries within Africa, but also from our global partners and finance institutions from the rest of the world.
In addition to business opportunities, the AGM will provide the platform for networking and building relationships that we are positive will be source of inspiration in the coming years.