ITC Executive Director opening speech at the World Export Development Forum (en)
Minister of Trade ans Industry, H. E. Fetlework Gebre-Egziabher,
AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry, Albert Muchanga,
I want to thank the African Union and the Government of Ethiopia for the excellent partnership with the International Trade Centre in hosting the World Export Development Forum 2019. Let me also thank the many friends and colleagues gathered here today.
The very first WEDF was held near our Geneva home in Annecy, France, exactly 20 years ago. As the world has evolved, so has the WEDF to remain useful to the trade and investment community.
These are difficult times for trade. Protectionism is on the rise; unilateralism is on the rise. And the results are reduced trade growth, reduced foreign investment flows and reduced business confidence. Uncertainty has resulted in lower growth prospects for all regions around the world.
Africa is sending a different message. After decades of market fragmentation, the continent has embarked in creating the largest integrated trade and investment zone in the world.
This positive development in Africa come at a turbulent time for the world. The digital, social and ecological revolutions are transforming how we produce, trade, and consume. Each has a bearing on how Africa trades with the world – and with itself. Each will affect the future of African business, especially micro, small and medium-sized enterprises that make up over 90% of firms. Each is addressed in WEDF sessions today and tomorrow.
First, the digital economy. Global value chains were enabled by the communication and transport revolution of the last two decades – now automation and 3D printing is set to change these manufacturing patterns again. The profound digital transformation of economics – from blockchain, artificial intelligence and big data – has only just begun. For consumers, e-commerce is changing the day-to-day way we shop, dress and eat. Digitization is a great wave that touches everything. And Africa must ride this wave.
As well as being a continent of traders from ancient times to today, nowhere in the world are people as in tune with nature's bounty than in Africa. Climate change, pollution and threats to biodiversity put all that at risk. Which brings me to the ecological revolution.
Sustainability must be an integral part of any decision we make on trade, growth and development. As I said yesterday to a roomful of youth we have no Planet B. Businesses need to build resilience, mitigation and sustainability into their calculations. Regulations and policies need to find that sweet spot of supporting growth while investing in the planet. Companies these days are unlikely to achieve long-term economic success without taking into account environmental factors.
Mass movements inspired by young climate have gone global. We see more and more people mobilizing to address injustice. This is part of a broader social revolution. Many are motivated by questions of economic inequality, a sense that prosperity is futile if it leaves people behind. Here, Africa must ensure market opening is inclusive. It is the only way to achieve the UN 2030 Agenda.
As the SheTrades and Youth Forum events this week have shown, inclusivity also means empowering women and young people to participate in open trade. Later today, we will hear pitches from half-a-dozen of Africa's brightest young entrepreneurs, including a young Ethiopian woman with an idea for a blockchain business. Look out too for the Youth Media Zone where young communicators are helping spread the word.
Inclusivity also means building partnerships – commercial partnerships, public-private partnerships. For example, ITC's Supporting India’s Trade Preferences for Africa (SITA) programme - financed by the UK - has supported Indian companies to invest in garment units in Ethiopia.
It was my pleasure to inaugurate one of these factories during my last visit to Ethiopia in May. As of last month, almost 2000 jobs have been created and in partnership with the regional government, we are providing post-investment support on customs clearance, logistics and banking services. As a result, customs clearance has fallen from 2.5 days to half-a-day.
That is the kind of investment that MSMEs in Africa need. Globally, ITC has estimated that increasing annual investments in small and medium-sized enterprises by $1 trillion would yield dividends in delivering the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and healthy returns for investors. Our new survey of nearly 10,000 companies in Francophone West Africa found that one in three companies in French-speaking Africa struggles financially and faces difficulties growing as a result. We'll be discussing how to finance and promote investment today and tomorrow.
But at WEDF we don’t just “talk business” we “do business”: Close to 300 companies are taking part in our B2B matchmaking sessions – which have been extended till Friday afternoon due to popular demand. Close to 100 investors are also here discussing investment opportunities.
With these few words, I now declare the 2019 World Export Development Forum open.