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IATF2023 is a catalyst for intra-African trade – Kanayo Awani, EVP, Afreximbank

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The Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF) is a powerful tool driving the continent’s economic growth by fostering intra-African trade. Held every two years, this event brings together businesses, governments, and stakeholders from across Africa to connect, explore opportunities, and strike deals. IATF2023, the latest edition concluded in November 2023 in Cairo, Egypt, further cemented the fair’s importance. Beyond facilitating business deals, IATF provides valuable resources and insights to address crucial topics like trade finance, investment, and women in trade, empowering entrepreneurs and business leaders across Africa.

In this interview, Mrs Kanayo Awani, Executive Vice President (Intra-African Trade Bank) at Afreximbank underscores IATF2023’s critical role in shaping a future where intra-African trade thrives and contributes significantly to the continent’s economic prosperity.

Can you kindly share insights about the success of this year’s IATF event? Did the number of attendees exceed expectations?

In terms of participation, both virtual and physical, IATF 2023 attracted 28,282 attendees. We initially announced 1,615 exhibitors, but following the audit, the final number was 1,939, exceeding our target of 1,600. Participating countries, including exhibitors, delegate visitors, and speakers, totalled 130, significantly surpassing our target of 75. Notably, 45 African countries were represented through pavilions or corporate entities. Of these, 42 were dedicated African country pavilions. Additionally, 16 non-African countries were represented, giving a total of 61 countries participating.

The total value of trade and investment deals reached $43.7 billion, exceeding our initial estimates. This achievement is a testament to the success of IATF 2023, as we surpassed the majority of our self-set targets. While visitor attendance slightly fell short of our goal, the overall outcome was undoubtedly successful.

What are some of the key initiatives implemented by the IATF relevant to financing?

One key example is the Engineer Procure and Construct initiative, launched in collaboration with the Egyptian government. This initiative aims to support intra-African investment flows and encourage African businesses to capitalize on the $60 billion spent on infrastructure projects across the continent.

We’ve also launched a digital platform called the Tenders Portal to ensure timely access to relevant business opportunities and connect them with capable African companies. This platform equips companies with the information and tools needed to seize valuable opportunities. Finally, the Transit Guarantee Scheme facilitates the seamless movement of goods across the continent. This scheme, currently being piloted, utilizes a technology-enabled transit bond to streamline cross-border trade along the Cairo-Cape Town corridor. With an initial financing ticket of $300 million and a continental target of $1 billion, this initiative has the potential to significantly boost regional trade.

These are just some of the initiatives we’ve implemented to not only highlight opportunities but also empower businesses and individuals to take advantage of them. We strive to provide the necessary resources and support to unlock Africa’s potential and foster sustainable growth.

Please shed more insights into the bank’s work in enabling African countries to develop conducive and competitive automotive laws and policies.

Our strategy for the automotive sector rests on three pillars: policy and advocacy, value chains, and financing. We champion policies that foster a thriving automotive ecosystem in Africa. This includes annual advocacy efforts and supporting the fair commercialization of standards. We’ve collaborated with Ghana and Egypt to review their automotive policies, creating an enabling environment for manufacturing and financing. Additionally, we’re working with the African Continental Free Trade Areas and interests to design a comprehensive automotive strategy for Africa, which is being domesticated by various African Countries.

We are also working on an expanded value chain strategy, whereby the automotive sector will support value chains. Mirroring the European Airbus model where components are dispersed across various countries for productions such as the flight controller in France, the wings in the United Kingdom, and parts of the fuselage in Germany; we envision a similar ecosystem for vehicle components with different African countries specializing in specific parts. To this end, we supported a value chain study piloted in West Africa, which is now being expanded continent-wide.

Our final pillar of the automotive strategy is financing. Recognizing the need for financial support, we aid the entire automotive value chain, from original equipment manufacturers to component manufacturers. This includes our work on developing battery precursors in collaboration with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

Kanayo Awani

What have been some of Afreximbank’s investments in the pharmaceutical industry and the drug sector in general in strengthening the healthcare landscape on the continent? And to what extent have players in this sector been able to tackle the opportunities that the bank and IATF present?

Afreximbank has consistently championed interventions in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry, most notably through the African Medical Centre of Excellence (AMC). This 500-bed quaternary hospital, currently under construction in Nigeria, serves as a flagship initiative for the bank, paving the way for similar facilities in Central, North, East, and Southern Africa. Developed in partnership with King’s College Hospital, the AMC represents a significant investment in healthcare infrastructure across the continent.

Beyond the AMC, Afreximbank actively engages in policy advocacy within the pharmaceutical sector. A key initiative involves harmonizing standards for pharmaceuticals and medical consumables. Working with the African Standards Organization, the bank has already harmonized over 200 standards in this area. This initiative, born out of the challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, aims to facilitate smoother trade and address issues related to medical supplies like PPEs and face masks.

Specifically, Afreximbank facilitated numerous meetings through its IATF program, working with the Egyptian Council for Medical Industries. This buyer program facilitated over 650 meetings between Egyptian and various African countries, focusing on pharmaceuticals, veterinary products, medical supplies, devices, and cosmetics. Participating African countries included Mauritius, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Togo, Benin, Tanzania, Malawi, and Egypt.

Alongside its advocacy and development efforts, Afreximbank remains committed to financing interventions within the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors. This “plain vanilla” business model involves utilizing credit facilities, trade finance, and project finance, alongside risk-bearing instruments like guarantees and advisory services.  Furthermore, the bank offers equity financing through its impact equity fund and the Fund for Export Development in Africa. Additionally, Afreximbank’s speciality insurance outfit, Afrexinsure, provides comprehensive insurance solutions. Finally, the bank’s project preparation unit supports potential transactions by conducting feasibility studies and transforming ideas into bankable projects.

The implementation of the African passport remains a hand-on-tap for business travellers on the continent. What is IATF doing to advance the implementation of this very important tool?

As you can imagine, IATF requires the implementation of the aforementioned tool. The conveners of IATF, including Afreximbank, AfCFTA Secretariat, and the African Union Commission, are deeply invested in its success. This initiative, driven by the African Union Commission under the protocols of free movement and residency for African people, is still actively being pursued. Afreximbank and IATF are strong supporters of this initiative, as it significantly facilitates interaction and enables trade, especially intra-African trade, by allowing people to move freely between African countries for business purposes. I will leave it at that, as this initiative remains under the leadership of the African Union Commission.

Algeria has been announced as the host of the next edition of the IATF. Can you share the criteria used when making this decision?

While we didn’t necessarily choose a host country directly, we followed a specific process for selecting the location of the next Intra-African Trade Fair. Every cycle, including the upcoming one, we launch a request for proposals (RFP) open to African Ministers of Trade. This RFP invites countries to express their interest and respond to our criteria.

In the case of Algeria, three countries were shortlisted. However, the final selection was driven by the venue infrastructure. The IATF has grown significantly, requiring approximately 40,000 square meters of exhibition space alone. Additionally, we need a venue equipped with world-class facilities to host numerous side events, including the gastronomy event, creative programs, and various trade fair verticals. Algeria’s infrastructure, including the venue itself, accommodation options, and the number of hotel beds, presented the ideal ecosystem to support a successful IATF.

Our selection process is rigorous. After the initial RFP response evaluation, we involve the IATF Advisory Council, which comprises member countries, development partners, and influential individuals. A dedicated selection committee, drawn from the Advisory Council and including representatives from financial institutions, international organizations, development agencies, and prominent Africans, conducts a thorough assessment. This includes on-site due diligence and meetings with local stakeholders in each shortlisted country. Finally, the committee presents its recommendation to the Advisory Council for endorsement. In some cases, the Council may even request interviews with key stakeholders in the shortlisted countries.

In essence, our selection process prioritizes venues that can accommodate the IATF’s growing scale and magnitude. We consider factors like available space, venue infrastructure, and the overall ecosystem needed to host a successful event. This careful assessment ultimately led us to choose Algeria for the 2025 IATF, alongside their positive response to the RFP.

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