Last week, the third Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF2023) was held in Cairo, Egypt. The event was jointly held by the AfCFTA Secretariat, the African Export-Import Bank, and the African Union. Former Nigerian president, and current Chairman of the IATF2023 Advisory Council, was quoted as saying that “intra-African trade holds the key to unlocking Africa’s true potential and fuelling economic growth, fostering industrialisation and creating job opportunities for the people of the continent.”
Such events signal a very positive attitude toward trade developing in Africa, a continent which has been hostile to creating a sound trade environment since independence swept across the region in the mid 20th century. The IATF2023 brought together entrepreneurs, policymakers, thought-leaders, and many more who see deepening economic integration in Africa through trade as an integral part of the continent’s future. An article on the Afreximbank website noted the following:
“President Obasanjo called on African government leaders, policy makers, and representatives to foster an environment conducive to trade by eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy, harmonising regulations and investing in necessary infrastructure. IATF2023 was a stepping stone towards a future where African nations traded freely, breaking down barriers and opening doors of opportunities for all.”
Numbers on attendance have not yet been released, but the 7-day event was projected to bring together over 1,600 exhibitors and over 30,000 visitors. In addition, trade and investment deals of approximately 43 billion USD were projected to happen at the event.
Events such as these are very important as they help to build an environment in which trade is supported and seen as an integral part to the continent’s future. According to both the Fraser Institute’s 2023 Economic Freedom in the World Report and the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, freedom to trade internationally has grown over time on the continent, but it has largely stagnated and even regressed in some of the continent’s largest economies. Both of these are worrying signs for a continent that needs to embrace trade to thrive.
Alexander Jelloian is the Research and Project Manager at the Initiative for African Trade and Prosperity.