THE Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF2021) kicked off with spectacular fanfare on November 15. 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: Cyril Ramaphosa, (South Africa); Muhammadu Buhari, (Nigeria); Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Chairman of the Advisory Council of IATF; Hakainde Hichilema, (Zambia); Lazarus Chakwera, (Malawi); and Emmerson Mnangagwa (Zimbabwe). Hussein Mwinyi representing President Samia Suluhu Hassan, (Tanzania); and Edouard Ngirente, (Rwanda Prime Minister), attended the event representing Paul Kagame.
President Cyril Ramaphosa declared in his keynote address that South Africa is ready to work with other African countries to drive more balanced, equitable and fair-trade relations for the benefit of the continent. ‘This Trade Fair is about building bridges. It is about connecting countries. It is about connecting people as well. Now Africa is taking concrete steps to write its own economic success story and this Intra-African Trade Fair is part of that story. Africa is opening up new fields of opportunity’ he asserted. President Ramaphosa also wants to see more made in Africa labels, as ‘this is critical if we are to change the distorted trade relationship that exists between African countries and the rest of the world. We can no longer have a situation where Africa exports raw materials and imports finished goods with those materials. By promoting trade in Africa, we strengthen our own industrial base and produce goods for ourselves and for each other.’
President Muhammadu Buhari commented that: ‘Today is a great day for Africa as we start our collaborative journey towards collective economic prosperity. We cannot achieve this goal by talking alone. The implementation, the difficult journey and the challenges are surmountable if both public and private sectors collaborate. On the public sector side, governments must support local entrepreneurs to build scale, and therefore improve productivity.’ He added that ‘the African Continental Free Trade Area must make the effort to ensure that Africa must be a marketplace where no country is left behind, we must ensure that we create jobs and enhance revenues for all parties.’
Prof. Benedict Oramah, President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Afreximbank, the event’s promoters, said in his opening keynote address that the IATF2021 is a demonstration of Africa’s defiance of the dark clouds gathered by the Covid-19 pandemic, and that, in the words of Ghana’s founding President Kwame Nkrumah, the convergence of Africans to chart the Continent’s trade and investment future, is a departure from the colonialists’ intention of partitioning the Continent along physical boundaries stretching over 87,000km, not for the benefit of Africans, but for their own. Prof. Oramah remarked that ‘the stimulation of economies isn’t about trade, it’s about job creation and holistic economic recovery backed by political support. It offers a comprehensive solution – it is not just a trade fair.’
President Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi said: ‘To make intra-African trade a reality, we must make our border procedures intra-African, our transport infrastructure intra-African, our bus and airline routes intra-African, electricity distribution intra-African, our fibre and broadband connectivity intra-African, our investment intra-African, our industrialisation and urbanisation intra-African and our shops intra-African. Africa cannot be a free trade area until us Member States remove the obstacles that hinder Africans from trading freely.’
Sihle Zikalala, Premier of the host province, KwaZulu-Natal commented in his welcome statement that: ‘Fellow African compatriots, the growth of any African country is intertwined with the development of the rest. It is intertwined and inseparable. African countries must stop thinking that they will survive on crumbs of colonialism and try to define themselves individually at the expense of others. As KwaZulu-Natal, we are inspired to host this historic Trade Fair, for we believe it will enhance trade within the continent and build production capacity. We must end a colonial legacy where Africa’s raw minerals continue to enrich advanced and industrialised countries while the continent remains poor.’
Wamkele Mene, Secretary-General of the African Continental Free Trade Area Secretariat, observed: ‘The next wave of investment in African markets must focus on productive sectors of Africa’s economy in order to drive the continent’s industrial development in the decades to come.’
Albert M. Muchanga, Commissioner for Trade and Industry, African Union, said that in the medium term the vision is to transform the Intra-African Trade Fair brand ‘into a self-financing special purpose vehicle, which will be owned by all African Union Member States, and Pan African financial institutions.’
The event which runs through to November 21, is expected to close upwards of $40bn worth of deals signed and is being attended by over 1,100 entities exhibiting their goods and services to over 10,000 delegates, visitors and buyers from over 95 countries from the continent and beyond.
Of significance is the introduction of an automotive forum, having appreciated the role played by the industry in spurring trade and investment. A vibrant automotive sector would impact on the rubber and other raw materials industry, thereby infusing rapid development for the other supporting sectors.
And in recognition of the potential of the youth in the continent, this year’s event will have a designated youth agenda – African Youth Startup – where a one stop pavilion will provide information for the youth on necessary business startup knowledge as well as hold their hands. More than 300 youth carefully selected from the whole of Africa are participating in the pavilion because the Youth are the continent’s future for investment trade and development
Of note though are two main introductions initiatives aimed at spurring investment and trade in the continent: The Creative Nexus Africa which will allow visitors and exhibitors alike, to experience work from some of the finest creative minds in the continent, get inspired and excited, and see just how their vision could create connection and transform the trade and investment frontier for the continent that bursts with bundles of untapped talent.