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CFTA will take many years to take effect, President of Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Association

12 May 2017
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The weekly Capital’s CFTA.now 5+1 questions is pleased to present to you Africa’s top business promoters. This week’s guest is Mr. Solomon Afework, the President of the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Associations, and the 1st Vice President of the Pan African Chamber of Commerce and Industry since 2014. Mr. Solomon talks with Mahlet Yebeka from the CFTA.NOW, about the big picture vision of business in Africa, and the role of PACCI in helping to shape trade and investment in Africa.

1. Let’s start with PACCI - what does it do to promote trade and investment in Africa?

Let me say that the Pan African Chamber of Commerce and Industry  is a dynamic, high-profile and independent business network, in fact the largest business organization in Africa representing the interests of more than 10 million businesses of all sizes and sectors.  Our members include national chambers of commerce, but also other industry associations, and business companies of all sizes, and other organizations working on trade issues. Through PACCI we meet for networking and mutual support across the continent. Our HQ is based in Addis and has an active Secretariat, a ten member executive council, and a General Assembly. Our next GA is scheduled for November 2017.

In terms of activities like organizing meetings, business visits, providing information, working with governments and all are handled by the Secretariat, which for the next four years is asked by the executive council to focus on promoting business integration in the continent, particularly getting involved in the implementation of the continental free trade area, which we understand will be signed in 2017. The other three priority areas include helping create the right environment for business  and industry to expand, be competitive and flourish, second, to promote green business, third to support women in business and finally to encourage and assist companies to engage in social responsibility works.

  1. You say the continental free trade area will be signed in 2017, what does that mean?

I am not familiar with the details of the process, but what I understand is that Africa’s Head of States will sign a continent wide free trade agreement in 2017. Now, that does not mean there is no more trade tariff or quotas in Africa but that there will be an agreement to proceed in that direction. The provisions of the agreement such as tariff reductions, or elimination of quotas for example, will be staged over time. The full effects of the agreement can take many years to be fully felt on the ground. This also depends on the negotiated outcome for each agreement. So, there is more to be done after the signature, business has a lot to contribute to push for the implementation of the agreement, and that’s why we insist that the private sector be engaged right from the start, which is not the case today.

  1. How do you engage with the chambers of commerce in each country?

Let me say, that the interesting thing about chambers of commerce is how much commonality there is between them, and how different they can be as well.  Most local chambers concentrate on development and promotion of their communities, some others are directly involved in economic development, others are not.  Many have an interest in government affairs, but it is not their main focus. Some are strong in their role as advocates of business; others may be strong in providing services. But by and large all local chambers of commerce are independent organizations. PACCI uses the national chamber as an entry point for its activities. We use for example, national chambers staff, to undertake certain specific activities. We do collect data or provide information about specific industries from and to national chambers, organize consultations with governments or arrange matching or lobbying activities. Now let me just say, it’s not easy to maintain a continental voluntary association in Africa. It’s much like starting and running your own business. It requires hard work, capital and careful planning. And in Africa we struggle to maintain continental associations; distances are huge and expensive to cover, communication is challenging, and finance is scarce, but with all that PACCI is slowly making gains in terms of pursuing the interest of the continent’s fairly large business community.

  1. How closely do you work with the AU Commission?

I know the PACCI Secretariat maintains good relations with the AU Commission trade and investment departments. In fact the Commission has not only been instrumental in the establishment of PACCI in 2009, it has since facilitated PACCI’s development by lending him its full support. I believe the MOU we signed with the Commission has also been useful in building a strong working relationship between PACCI and the AU. PACCI members have been consulted on a number of occasions on trade and industry related issues. But I think there is room for further strengthening our engagement if we want to make a difference in the shaping of government trade and investment policies.

  1. How closely do you work with other business organizations including the African Business Council?

We collaborate closely with regional business associations, such as regional chambers of commerce or business councils, manufacturing and agriculture associations, as well as international organizations, including the UN organizations, such as the UNECA, and others. The African Business Council, as far as I know is not yet active. My understanding is there is an on-going attempt within the AU to establish an African business council or association, or organization, or federation… it’s not clear what it is, but there is a sense among many business leaders I talked to, that the AU wants its own business council. What will be its mission, how will it be organized, which core group will it serve and represent, and most importantly how will it finance itself…  Nothing is clear at this stage. There may be some small financing available from the EU or other western donors, but I know there is no appetite today for another continental business association to duplicate what PACCI and other existing organizations are struggling to do. As far as I know, outside the Commission, there is not even a core group of recognized business leaders championing the project. My colleagues in Seychelles in 2015 have said so clearly at the Chambers Conference, that there is no need to establish a new organization, but rather to reinforce existing ones to fill the unmet needs of business. In any case you need to check with officials at the AU for answers on this matter. What I can tell you is that PACCI can easily work and cooperate with anyone.

  1. The next president of PACCI will be from East Africa, will you be running to become president of PACCI?

I feel very proud and also very privileged to have served as President of Ethiopia Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Association and Vice President of PACCI since 2014. My term ends this year, so it’s time for me to concentrate on my business. Let me just add that I am pleased to see PACCI doing well thus far, but I am also concerned about its future, it still needs much support from business as well as governments.

Source (CFTA.now /PACCI)

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The Pan African Chamber of Commerce and Industry was established in 2009 by 35 founding national business chambers to influence government policy and create a better operating environment for business.

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