Africa needs to integrate, was one key message from a 26 January briefing co-hosted by Africa investor (Ai – www.africainvestor.com), a leading international investment research and communications group, and Brand South Africa www.brandsouthafrica.com. The meeting was held during the World Economic Forum summit in Davos. In his keynote speech, South Africa’s Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan said the continent needs to take advantage of having a market of 1bn people and some of the world’s fastest-growing economies, and become a more effective voice on the global stage.
He said: “The great transition from West to East and South will continue, but we shouldn’t delude ourselves that we are at the end of that – it is just beginning. You can’t ignore a continent like Africa. In the next 15-20 years the focus on Africa will sharpen. It is in that context that we take a tough – but optimistic look – at regional economic integration.”
Maria Ramos, CEO of Absa Group, said Africa needed more financial infrastructure: “This is a unique time for Africa. What we shouldn’t lose sight of is that for growth, you need financial infrastructure and to build it in the same way we prioritise energy, transport. We need to understand what financial regulation looks like and get it done. The banking industry is excited about the prospect of building our business across the continent and we need to have good channels for our products, and the scale to deliver good products in a sensible, cost effective way. That can only be done if we get some of the regional agreements implemented. Standardising processes, ensuring we do understand that financial markets and banking are very much at the centre of the dynamic change that is happening.”
The meeting brought together political, economic and international development leaders to explore how to galvanise and sustain leadership in the private and public sectors to support regional economic integration. Key themes to emerge included infrastructure development, youth engagement and entrepreneurship, and increased political will as key drivers for future growth.
In the panel session, South Africa’s Minister of Trade and Industry, Rob Davies, said: “The barriers to intra-regional trade are not just tariffs; they also include inadequate infrastructure and the need to produce more tradable goods. We have identified the need to industrialise the continent, to add value to mineral and agriculture products through beneficiation and to develop a pharmaceutical industry to eradicate diseases specific to the continent. Africa is growing but we need to turn growth into a sustained economic development effort, based on developing productive activity within our countries. Turning to the continent gives us the scale to turn the growth spurt in to a sustained development effort.”
Hubert Danso, CEO of Ai, said: “As we focus on access to leadership in 2012, Brand South Africa and Africa investor will lead by example by carrying forward these recommendations and outcomes.” He said they would keep contact with institutions and leaders that influence intra-regional trade and investment flows, policy and competiveness. Miller Matola, CEO of Brand South Africa (www.brandsouthafrica.com), stated, “We have covered a significant ground since we first met here last year. Many of the things we are talking about are becoming more of a reality, particularly with regards to the free trade agreement. Clearly this agenda requires a long term and enduring leadership approach and we hope that this leaders’ public-private sector dialogue platform on regional integration, is making a modest contribution in that regard.”
Future Brand South Africa and Ai regional economic integration events will include:
1. An Africa Consultation at the World Economic Forum on Africa, in Ethiopia, to be held in May 2012.
2. Hosting a follow-up UN Consultation during the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2012,
3. Return to Davos in 2013 for a Global Consultation to review progress and plans for 2013.
4. Launch of our Thought Leadership Research Series of CEO Briefings, which will highlight African intra-regional trade and investment issues – and opportunities.