8th African Economic Conference closes

Thursday, 31 October, 2013

Hot on the heels of their recent fascinating report on African connectivity, the African Development Bank today reported on the eighth African Economic Conference (AEC), finishing today in Johannesburg, South Africa, emphasising the theme that stepping up investment in industrialization and trade facilitation is key to continued development.

A plenary session entitled “Making Industrialization and Trade Transform Africa” heard that despite recent progress Africa remains the world’s least diversified region in terms of its production and export bases; growth, though currently impressive, remains highly vulnerable to external shocks (and has not translated into meaningful job creation for most countries), and climate and volatility of global commodity prices are a coming storm, given the Africa’s heavy dependence on agriculture and primary commodities.

All’s not reflective gloom, however - the conference was looking forward, and the output is worth a look. Among other interesting comments, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTD) chief of Africa section Patrick Osakwe said yesterday that: “We have to adopt a strategic and pragmatic approach to industrialisation… It is very important that African countries be realistic and approach industrialization policies from a strategic perspective. We have to focus on what works, not ideological convictions.” Words with which it’s hard to argue, but on which it's often hard to act. 

Meanwhile, Asma Bouraoui Khouja (Executive Director of the Maghreb Economic Forum) focussed articulately on the need to support small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as the heart of sustainable growth; and Jane Nalunga, Country Director for the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institutes (SEATINI), spoke on liberalisation and policy coherence, tariff escalation, rules of origin and trade partnership agreements. Other participants discussed the pooling of African economies and markets through trade and regional integration in search of trade that could exploit economies of scale.   

On the closing day of the conference, AfDB Chief Economist and Vice-President Mthuli Ncube focused on knowledge and capacities: knowledge, strong institutions and the management of skills and talents should be at the core of the integration agenda.  He closed by saying that political leaders should double their efforts in this regard, and raised the unusual image of a "tightly integrated growth pole."

The African Economic Conference was organized jointly by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).