By Emmanuel Oluebube, Correspondent UK
On Friday, June 26, 2020, Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) hosted the fourth and final day of its inaugural Leaders Forum – a high level virtual forum to bring together Heads of State, senior USG and African government officials, CEOs and private sector executives, and leaders from multilateral institutions.
Over 2500 business and government leaders from across the US and Africa registered for the CCA Leaders Forum to gain insight on business engagement that will shape and drive post-COVID-19 recovery in Africa. Over the course of the week, the Forum was also live streamed on over 300 Africa-related news sites and it attracted well over 100,000 views daily. The Leaders Forum provided CCA members and stakeholders a platform needed now more than ever in these challenging times.
Session four, entitled “Resiliency in Action: Sustaining Regional and Bilateral Trade Post-COVID in Africa” featured welcome remarks by CCA President and CEO Florizelle Liser, and opening remarks by Senior Vice President and Head of Global Government Engagement, Visa Inc, Demetrios Marantis. Marantis noted that as the world leader in digital payments, VISA embraces their responsibility to support digital readiness and economic recovery in Africa by partnering with African governments to digitize payments and strengthen SMEs and enabling innovations in the payment industry. He remarked that “As the world recovers, securing the ability of micro and small businesses to get online and engage in e-commerce is more important than ever.”
President, Republic of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and President, Republic of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta gave opening remarks and participated in a fireside chat moderated by Senior Vice President, Albright Stonebridge Group, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield. President Akufo-Addo stated that the Ghanaian government has adopted a “Whole of Ghana” approach to fighting the pandemic, which includes a US$250 million coronavirus alleviation program to support SMEs, minimize job losses, and stimulate economic revitalization. Ghana has also established an US$18 billion Ghana CARES programme, aimed at revitalizing and transforming the national economy over the next three years. In addressing local production efforts, President Akufo-Addo stated that “We’ve seized the opportunity that has emerged from this pandemic to enhance the capacity of our domestic private sector to produce many of our essential products, with the pharmaceutical and garment sectors in the lead. President Kenyatta stressed the promise and importance of the proposed US-Kenya Free Trade Agreement, with negotiations set to begin July 7, 2020. He emphasized the importance of the Africa’s private sector in leading economic growth, pointing to Kenya’s efforts to adopt more business-friendly rules and regulations to support this growth. President Kenyatta commended CCA for “seizing this moment. A critical moment when all of us are facing very severe challenges. And using the current crisis as an opportunity to recalibrate and reinvigorate US-Africa business engagement. In particular, I appreciate the spirit of understanding and the spirit that underpins this Forum which is to conduct our work in a manner that ensures our respective countries and economies emerge out of this crisis more strong and more resilient.”
Florie Liser then moderated a panel, with four prominent trade and business leaders.
Secretary-General of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Wamkele Mene said the initial July 1 start date for trading under the AfCFTA would be postponed, possibly to January 1, 2021. He was optimistic about getting full ratification of the agreement. He emphasized that in order for Africa to significantly transform global value chains, there must be an acceleration of Africa’s industrial development and a strengthening of regional value chains. The AfCFTA is “about building on all the progress that has been made in liberalizing trade in Africa…it must ensure that Africa significantly improves intra-Africa trade from the 18 percent where it stands now to higher amounts over time.”
Group CEO of Ethiopian Airlines Tewolde Gebremariam stated that tourism and aviation industries in Africa have been severely affected by COVID-19. In the face of a collapse of passenger traffic, Ethiopian Airlines shifted to handling more cargo and humanitarian supplies, stating: “We converted 25 passenger airplanes to cargo by removing their seats. We are still using them. As a result, Addis today is the largest hub for the World Food Programme and the United Nations humanitarian operations in Africa.” He also noted that the airline is flying many of its regular passenger routes, including to the US, but with fewer passengers and health precautions in place. Gebremariam hoped African governments would focus more attention on the aviation sector, and noted as a key issue for the post-COVID period that “biosecurity is going to change the airline industry and we are preparing accordingly”.
Senior Vice President and General Manager, Procter and Gamble Southern Africa Viliam Trska highlighted a change in consumer behavior that favored convenience through e-commerce over retail shopping in many instances. He called for governments to promote policies to advance technology and promote health and hygiene. “We all need to work together to create a resilient Africa. We need to avoid temptations of protectionism. As we go through the COVID crisis we’ll need to focus on protecting lives as well as preserving economies. And hopefully with the AfCFTA we will create a lot of opportunities for future growth.”
Government Affairs Director, Asia Pacifica, Africa, and the Middle East for Caterpillar, Jeffrey Hardee welcomed the implementation of the AfCFTA anticipating that it will increase harmonization procedures across Africa, allowing for quicker, more efficient movement of goods. He highlighted that good digital policy in Africa, more important now than ever, would support business environments across the continent. “Infrastructure is a foundation for growth…trade is critical to provide the needs and means to build that infrastructure. Trade agreements are critical to set the rules regulations and really open up access to markets,” he said.
In closing, Florie Liser, noted that Africa has shown resiliency and leadership in the face of COVID-19. The AfCFTA is more important than ever in promoting investment, intra-African trade and manufacturing, and in increasing regional and global value chains. She further highlighted the importance of partnerships as shown through financial support by multilateral institutions and bilateral partners, and new initiatives such as Prosper Africa, the creation of the Development Finance Corporation, and the prospect of a US-Kenya Free Trade Agreement. She noted that the private sector and the digital economy have a critical role to play. She concluded her remarks by stating that “Post-COVID Africa, like in the rest of the world, will likely lead to new priorities and new opportunities.”
CCA thanked the generous sponsors of the Leaders Forum: Acrow Bridge; Afro Tourism; AllAfrica, APO Group; Caterpillar Inc.; Citi; Covington and Burling LLP; Creative Associates; Development Finance International; Flutterwave; General Electric; Lockheed Martin; Procter & Gamble; Rabin Martin; and Visa Inc.