Small businesses attend continental trade fair

Over thirty Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) participated in the Intra-Africa Trade Fair (IATF), which took place in Durban, South Africa, this week.

A majority of the SMEs – sponsored by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) through its African Trade Policy Centre (ATPC) and in collaboration with UN Women – were women led (24) and youth entrepreneurs (17) aged between 21 and 35 years old. The businesses were mainly from the East Africa, West Africa, Central Africa, and Southern Africa regions.

Stephen Karingi, ECA’s Director of Regional Integration and Trade, said the selected SMEs are beneficiary of ECA’s previous capacity building programmes on trade, the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and/or gender and trade.

“These are SMEs producing goods and/or services with high potential for intra-African trade,” said Mr Karingi, adding that their economic activities cross all agriculture, agro-processing, and other manufacturing sectors such as coffee, poultry and associated products, leather products, and textiles, as well as services like transport and logistics.

“Most SMEs do not only sell locally but export to other African countries and source their inputs as well from other African countries. Some have received local standards certification, supporting their ability to participate formally in local and regional markets.”

It is expected that, through access to business linkages facilitated by the IATF and ECA’s complementary capacity building and experience sharing opportunities, the selected SMEs can learn from the experiences of successful entrepreneurs, better integrate into regional value chains, add value to their products, and access wider African markets.

The IATF is an African trade show that provides a platform for sharing trade, investment and market information and enabling buyers and sellers, investors and countries to meet, discuss and conclude business deals. It gives an opportunity for exhibitors to showcase their goods and services, engage in Business to Business (B2B) exchanges and conclude business deals.

The conference featured dedicated sessions on trade and investment opportunities under the AfCFTA , and training workshops covering exporting, standards, and marketing.

At the opening of IATF, Vera Songwe, the UN under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ECA, said AfCFTA is Africa’s build forward into the future for prosperity agenda and tourism is an important part of AfCFTA and has a potential to create extra $50billion into Africa’s GDP. “10% of continent’s exports are in tourism, said Ms Songwe.

“The IATF is tourism in action, and through tourism the AfFCFTA speaks and connects Africa from Seychelles to, Gambia, Comoros, Tunisia, and Rwanda. Full implementation of the protocol on free movement of persons critical,” she said.

If fully implemented, she added, AfCFTA will create jobs particularly for women who trade for and out of Africa. It will also integrate countries and liberalise free movement of goods, services and people on the continent.

AfreximBank President, Benjamin Oramah, said the IATF is a solid tool that will ensure that the AfCFTA achieves what it is meant for, and that the trade fair will open the African market to African businesses.

“IATF will enable us to build trust amongst ourselves, open investment opportunities that we never knew existed, and begin to foster the emergence of regional value chains. It is the trade information flow that the trade fair will facilitate that will bring down the 87,000 kms of borders that divide us today,” said Oramah.

“Connecting African buyers and sellers” as the key purpose of the IATF, which he demonstrated with eye-catching success stories of deals worth several billions of dollars, signed at IATF 2018n in Cairo, and implemented.

Organised by the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) in collaboration with the African Union (AU) and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat, and in partnership with the ECA, the second IATF brought together thousands of visitors and buyers from across the African continent and served a platform for several companies to showcase their products and services.