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African free-trade area close to becoming a reality, says president of Rwanda

By Edith Mutethya | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-03-25 22:49
Rwanda President Paul Kagame (center), accompanied by Alibaba founder Jack Ma (left), examines a coffee product at an event for the launch of the World Electronic Trade Platform in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. [Photo by Niu Jing / For China Daily]

 

The 2019 Africa CEO Forum kicked off on Monday in Kigali, Rwanda with a call for the public and private sectors to play their respective roles in making the Continental Free Trade Area a reality.

 

Speaking during the opening ceremony, Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, said the proposed free-trade area, which is also known as the CFTA, is on the cusp of becoming a reality and noted that one more ratification is all that is needed.

 

"This is where the hard work begins," he said. "So, it is very timely for us to gather here today to discuss how to make the most out of this historic agreement, among other important issues."

 

Kagame said open, responsive, and accountable governance is critical for the success of the CFTA. Everything that is done, he said, including economic development, will have results that reflect back on the politics surrounding it. If the politics are bad, he explained, everything else will be bad.

 

"We, therefore, need the urgency and focus that only the private sector can provide, with its unique ability to envision new opportunities on the horizon and seize them," he said.

 

Kagame said the time is right for private-sector leaders to reflect on what about the CFTA needs to be changed and improved upon. This will create a situation where the private sector and the public sector will challenge and push each other to make more progress, he added.

 

Kagame said the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area, at national level, will require constant dialogue and flexibility.

 

"The full involvement of the African business community is critical to keep us on track," he said.

 

Kagame said it is the responsibility of all Africans to ensure that deeper integration translates into prosperity and wellbeing for all people.

 

"What we need is more business activity with each other, so that we see the emergence of global African firms with continental scope and scale, which champion the interests and ambitions of our people."

 

Philippe Le Houerou, the chief executive officer of International Finance Corporation, said the CEO forum is an opportunity for CEOs to share their experiences and ideas with their counterparts, as well as for the private sector to engage with the government.

 

He said the private sector has a critical role to play by providing input to government policies to ensure they are sound and workable.

 

Houerou said African governments should provide an enabling environment for businesses through identifying the right reforms and reducing red tape.

 

Amir Ben, the managing director of Jeune Afrique Media Group and the president and founder of Africa CEO Forum, said that, along with economic integration, ambition is the real theme of the conference.

 

"We are here today with a new ambition, to give the private-sector leaders the will to become the true ambassadors of economic integration and to make sure the CFTA becomes a business reality," he said.

 

As an African private-sector CEO, Ben said he was skeptical when he first heard about the CFTA. But, little by little, months by month, it is becoming a reality.

 

"We need to thank President Kagame, Carlos Lopes, the former executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger Republic, and many others, as they were instrumental in the past three years in making this trade agreement a reality," he said.

 

During the past few months, Ben said a lot has been written and said about the benefits of a more integrated Africa that has more trade, more growth, and more jobs, but not enough has been written about the risks of not fully supporting integration.

 

"Our ambition for this forum is to kick-start a global conversation between the public and private sectors on how to move forward together," Ben said.

 

This year's forum runs from March 25 to 26 and is the seventh edition of the conference that is the largest international gathering of African private-sector decision-makers and financiers.

 

The forum is organized by Jeune Afrique Media Group, publisher of Jeune Afrique and The Africa Report, and by Rainbow Unlimited, a Swiss company that specializes in the organization of economic promotion events.

 

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