Address by ITC Executive Director opening speech at the WEDF (en)
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
New and old friends
Good morning, and welcome to you all!
I want to thank the Zambian government for partnering with the International Trade Centre to host this eighteenth edition of the World Export Development Forum.
Lusaka is an appropriate place for us to have gathered this week.
In some other parts of the world today, people and governments have lost enthusiasm for open markets. They are questioning the value of international cooperation on trade. They see international rules as a burdensome constraint on sovereign control.
Not here in Africa.
Africans have embraced economic integration: among neighbouring countries, within regions, at the continental level, and with the rest of the world. In March, I had the honour of being present in Kigali when leaders from across the continent established the Africa Continental Free Trade Area.
The message there was clear:
As others sought to retreat from international cooperation, African governments decided to move forward.
As others railed against trade, Africans recognized that the opportunities offered by trade exceed the downsides.
As others talked about taking back control, African countries affirmed that standing together makes them stronger than standing alone.
The Africa Continental Free Trade Area builds on African governments’ domestic reform agendas, as well as their work to implement the WTO trade facilitation agreement. And, it complements the trade and market integration that has been promoted through the regional economic communities. In this context I would like to congratulate the new Secretary-General of COMESA, Chileshe Kapwepwe, on her recent appointment.
Why are African countries keen to increase trade? Not because sending more merchandise and services across borders is a goal in and of itself. Trade is a means, not an end: a means to encourage value addition, increase living standards and create better jobs.
Continent-wide economic integration will create a larger market than that available in individual African countries or regions. For African businesses, this promises in turn to enable the productivity gains that come with increased scale and specialisation. For African consumers, it promises wider choices and better prices. The evidence suggests that when African countries trade with each other, the goods they exchange are more sophisticated than those they export to the rest of the world. This means deepening regional integration encourages diversification away from the primary commodities on which too many African economies continue to depend. I am delighted to have the African Union Trade Commissioner Albert Muchanga partnering with us on the ‘Youth Unconference’ which will help us to better reflect the views of the youth on the Africa Continental Free Trade Area. I am also pleased that we will be presenting the first copy of ITC’s publication ‘Business Guide to the Africa Continental Free Trade Area’ to the Commissioner. It was after all his request that we develop such a guide for the business community.
But the true test of any trade policy is the impact it has on the lives of ordinary citizens.
And here I see two important challenges for African policymakers, businesses, and their partners. I am proud to say that ITC is doing its part on both.
Challenge one is that market-opening on paper does not automatically translate into increased cross-border trade. Bridging this gap requires hard infrastructure - the road, rail, air, electric and digital connections that enable the production and exchange of goods and services. But it also needs soft infrastructure: policies, tools, and information. Entrepreneurs and traders need a supportive, responsive policy environment. And they need access to intelligence about market opportunities and requirements in other countries.
The second challenge is about equity and inclusion: about ensuring that the gains from trade, and from growth more generally, are broadly shared. The backlash against trade we see in many advanced economies today has much to do with the fact that large sections of society felt excluded from prosperity. In developing countries, people are generally more optimistic about trade, since the rising tide of growth has lifted wages across the income distribution. But even in developing economies, the biggest gains have also gone to people at the top. We may even now be sowing the seeds of a future backlash against globalisation – this time in developing countries. And there is another kind of exclusion: that of the many developing countries that remain on the margins of international value chains, supplying unprocessed raw materials, if anything at all.
The key to making our economies more inclusive – and the key to making international trade and investment work for the 99% -- is micro-, small, and medium-sized enterprises. Because MSMEs account for the vast majority of businesses and jobs, the more that they are able to become more competitive and connect to the global economy, the more the gains from trade will be broadly shared. The less productive and less integrated MSMEs are, the less likely we will be to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals for the reduction of poverty and inequality.
This is why we are here in Lusaka. And it is why ITC has worked since 1964 to empower MSMEs to connect to international markets.
ITC is supporting African governments to bolster the soft infrastructure needed to make the most of sub-regional, continental, and global market integration. Across the continent, ITC has worked to ensure that trade facilitation reforms reflect the private sector’s experiences and needs. Working with local partners, we have surveyed businesses about the non-tariff measures that are keeping them out of export markets, and identified potential solutions at home and in trading partners.
Together with the African Union Commission, ITC is developing an African Trade Observatory to collect and analyse trade data from AU member states. It will enable public sector actors to monitor the implementation of the Continental Free Trade Area, while giving businesses the information they need to make better investment and marketing decisions.
In the West African Economic and Monetary Union, ITC is engaged in a comprehensive effort to support increased intra-regional trade. In the East African Community, we are supporting agribusinesses to meet international market requirements and ramp up exports to Europe and elsewhere. Through triangular cooperation with China and India, we are seeking to ensure that inflows of investment from these new sources of financing go to MSMEs, not just a handful of well-connected large firms.
In The Gambia, ITC is supporting the government’s efforts to upgrade skills training and create economic opportunities at home for young people. And from North Africa to Burkina Faso, and Mali to refugee camps in Kenya and Tanzania, ITC is working to connect vulnerable communities – especially women – to international markets for furniture, textiles, and computer services.
The focus on women and young people is deliberate. When they are equipped to tap into international markets, the socioeconomic benefits are especially large and long-lasting. Here in Zambia, research shows that one of the silver linings of a major economic downswing in Copperbelt Province starting in the 1980s was that it brought large numbers of women into the workforce, in mining but especially in other sectors. Over time, perceptions of women’s role in the economy shifted. Where working women were once viewed with suspicion, they are increasingly seen as examples for others to follow. When copper prices rose again, more women entered the workforce, notably in health and education. This is good for Zambia’s long-term prosperity. Excluding 50% of the population from the economy is no way to maximise growth or inclusiveness.
This is why I was so pleased that, together with the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), we launched SheTrades Zambia just yesterday. This will be an important platform to support women’s economic empowerment and take all of the amazing women-led SMEs in Zambia, to regional and international markets.
The World Export Development Forum is where trade policy concerns meet business practice. It is a conversation about what is working – and what needs to be improved – to make international markets work better for MSMEs and sustainable development. The topics we will address here – green finance, women in trade, skills upgrading for young people – go to the heart of trade’s intersection with the Sustainable Development Goals. Based on ITC’s own cutting-edge research, we will hear about how to build the support ecosystems businesses need to thrive in the digital age.
WEDF is not just about talking business, it is about doing business. This year’s business-to-business meetings will focus on agribusiness products and processing equipment. In response to business demand, buyers and sellers of packaging materials are also represented here. Packaging is an unsung hero of food safety, branding, and trade. Too frequently, however, packaging can be both unaffordable and a source of waste. It is possible for African businesses to leapfrog directly to sustainable packaging - and the contacts you will make here can help make that happen.
Over the next two days, we will hear from founders like Tiguidanke Camara, who in 2009 quit her New York modelling job and today heads Tigui Mining Group, Guinea’s only mining company that is headed by a woman. We will meet Michael Ocansey – the victor of last year’s WEDF pitching competition - whose Ghana-based startup allows smallholder farmers to cut out intermediaries and sell directly to buyers. We have already seen Rose Sibisi, who in addition to hosting a talk show is an inspiring entrepreneur in her own right.
And we will hopefully hear views from all of you in this room.
This week is about promoting smart packaging in Africa through our event with FAO and IMA yesterday; about women’s economic empowerment through SheTrades; about investment and business linkages through our B2B sessions; about Trade and Investment through the China-Zambia event that will be held directly after WEDF, about youth, trade facilitation, agri-business, and more. But of equal importance it is about making connections. Speak to each other. Learn from each other. Trade with each other.
Without further ado: let the show begin!