ESTHER MSETEKA, Lusaka
A BUSINESS forum is said to be a great vehicle for learning new things that are critical to the sustainability of a person or country’s investment.
For a country like Zambia, is keenly taking all necessary routes to sustain investment as it aspires to attain the middle-income status by 2030, this is cardinal.
Last week, Zambia hosted the 18th edition of the World Export Development Forum (WEDF), which aims at supporting trade-led development of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as they are the cornerstone of development.
Its importance in job creation and economic growth cannot be over-emphasised as about 70 percent of private sector business in Zambia is conducted by enterprises.
This is the reason the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry in conjunction with the International Trade Centre (ITC) held a two-day intense forum for over 1,500 delegates from over 60 countries to bring on board SMEs to deliberate on ‘Scaling up through Trade: Skill-Innovate-Connect’.
Among the major highlights for this year’s conference was the launch of the first SheTrades chapter in southern Africa (SheTrades Zambia) and the Business Guide to the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), a trade agreement between 44 African Union (AU) member states, with the goal of creating a single market followed by free movement and a single currency union.
This prompted ITC to present the business guide that will help the private sector and policy-makers to better understand and pilot the AfCFTA to the AU Trade Commission.
ITC executive Arancha González feels the guide
will provide insights into the business implications of AfCFTA with the view of helping stakeholders to positively contribute to policy-making.
With the business guide in place, it is anticipated that the private sector and policy-makers will strategise to safeguards against any negative effect of trade liberalisation that may result from the implementation of the AfCFTA, such as possible loss of tariff revenue and jobs, particularly in the agriculture sector.
Ms González believes that enhanced knowledge on the expansion of markets and free movement of people provides a unique opportunity for African businesses to be among the first powerhouses in adjusting business practices and exploring regional opportunities.
“The guide points out that the AfCFTA already has cooperation mechanisms in place such as in addressing non-tariff barriers and in resolving disputes that African businesses can benefit from, as they seek to deepen their regional integration.
“The AfCFTA is a historical agreement that will be crucial in addressing competitiveness issues in Africa,” she said.
Clearly, at a time when countries around the world are turning away from increased integration, it is important that Africa should seek closer regional cooperation as it is key in the creation of jobs, value addition and poverty reduction.
Ms González is hopeful that the plan will prove to be invaluable for enterprises, entrepreneurs and policy -makers who want to deepen their understanding of the AfCFTA in an effort to stay ahead of the curve.
Accordingly, it is believed that the business guide will also enable policy-makers involved in negotiating and implementing the AfCFTA to be more aware of the needs of the private sector and include them in provisions related to trade of goods and services.
In receiving the guide, AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry Albert Muchanga underscores the strategy’s timely and great value, as it will help to break down the complexities of the AfCFTA into ideas and concepts for businesses to understand.
“The business guide to the AfCFTA will help ensure that the private sector, especially the micro, small and medium enterprises [MSMEs], women and youth entrepreneurs take full advantage of the agreement,” Mr Muchanga noted.
He is also optimistic that the guide is significant in the exploration of the forthcoming areas of the agreement such as intellectual property rights, investments and competition policy.
Certainly, sometimes African institutions borrow policies from other regions without examining their institutional capacities and this is the reason why Vice-President Inonge Wina believes that some undertaking requires collective efforts and active involvement of all stakeholders to attain positive results.
In this regard, Ms Wina wants SMEs to be anchor to large companies to help them grow and become more competitive.
She says investing in the growth of SMEs is critical in the creation of sustainable jobs and wealth.
“In Zambia, we are stepping up our efforts to strengthen the capacities of our MSME and anchor them to multi-nationals, which will help increase exports and job creation, and ensure more sustainable growth.
“The WEDF provides an opportunity to discuss challenges, share best practices and learn from one another as shared by other countries,” she said.
As a ministry involved in commerce, trade and industry, minister Christopher Yaluma feels that the forum was dedicated to supporting developing countries build competitiveness of SMEs by connecting them to international markets.
Mr Yaluma says the conference provided a better platform for the business community to have an opportunity to interface through the business-to-business and match-making sessions.
“There is need to empower local women in trade. We are determined to protect and promote Zambia’s women entrepreneurs to enable them play a greater role in our country’s exports,” he said.
Undoubtedly, the conference is over now – however, this is not the time for Government, private sector agencies and intermediary bodies to relax, but to cultivate on the business linkages that were created tO boost trade facilitation.
ESTHER MSETEKA, Lusaka