The age-old dream of getting the 54 disparate sovereign states of Africa to engage in serious trading and to do business amongst themselves is finally coming true, thanks in large part to the gargantuan efforts of the African Export-Import Bank, commonly known as Afreximbank.
The Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF), the flagship project for achieving this laudable feat, is celebrating its third edition between November 9 and 15, 2023, at the impressive Al Manara International Conference Centre in Cairo, Egypt, the multilateral development bank’s headquarter’s host city. Over 75 countries, many from outside the continent, notably China, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, have concluded arrangements to make the 3rd IATF, deservedly, an international affair.
This year’s open bazaar expects a record 1600 exhibitors and 35,000 conference delegates and trade visitors dealing and talking their way through trade and business transactions worth over $43 billion, more than half the combined total of $77 billion chalked up at the previous two fairs, CairoIATF2018 and DurbanIATF2021.
Afreximbank’s grand goal is to grow Africa’s puny 3% share of global trade by “stimulating a consistent expansion, diversification, and development of African trade” and countering the continent’s deliberate exclusion from global trade by the world’s big, rich economies.Bank Vice President in charge of the IATF, Kanayo Awani, says trading corporations and countries already benefit from the bank’s “Pan-African Payment and Settlement System platform, which facilitates the execution of local transactions in countries, for example, by enabling an Egyptian importer to pay in his local currency for goods he buys in another African country without having to convert his money first”.The great potential this facility provides is easily obvious to African traders.
Bank President Prof. Benedict Okey Oramah has always known what the Africa-focused lender had to do. At a recent celebration of the $300 million financing of the purchase of Nigeria’s Union Bank by Titan Trust Bank, Prof. Oramah declared: “As international capital retreats from Africa, we must redouble our efforts to build an effective and resilient financial services sector on the continent committed to intra-Africa trade and investments and the development of regional value chains”. The bank hopes to double its financing of intra-African trade to $40 billion by 2026 from the $20 billion mark it achieved in 2021.
Organized in collaboration with the African Union and the Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area, the IATF is the visible success story of all efforts to make Africa one giant market place for promoting the continent’s sustainable development. The beauty of this year’s market fest, the organizers say, is that aside from the in-person experience at the massive, commodious exhibition centre in Cairo, a well-conceived IATF Virtual will enable the showcasing of goods, services, and investment opportunities on the continent on an interactive online platform. More poignantly, interested persons, corporate organizations, and countries may continue to interact virtually after the trade fair’s winding-down ceremony on November 15.