African Business Leaders Established the African Technical Business Advisory Committee (ATBAC)
By Serge P. Diop
The African business community has continued to present the unified voice of business by putting in place the framework establishing the African Technical Business Advisory Committee (ATBAC) to push for the implementation of the Action Plan for boosting intra African trade, and fast tracking of the CFTA. At a meeting organized by the Pan African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PACCI) in Accra, Ghana, on 12th and 13th of September 2017, business leaders and executives from Morocco to Ethiopia, Nigeria to Namibia, business leaders from 38 African countries agreed to establish an independent Advisory Committee, which will comprise the various private sector interests, such as the Chambers of Commerce and Industry, regional business councils, industry associations, women entrepreneurs and services to play an advisory role to the African Union policy organs, namely the Conference Trade Ministers and the High Level African Trade Committee comprising of Heads of States from the countries that are chairing the Regional Economic Communities.
The two day meeting, under the theme: The Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA)- Exploring Possibilities for Business Engagement across Africa, took stock of the current situation regarding the Continental Free Trade negotiations and the role of the private sector in advancing the CFTA. In his opening speech, Honorable Alan Kyerematen, Minister of Trade and Industry of the Republic of Ghana, stressed the need for involving the private sector in the CFTA process. “The potential of trade and private sector development has not been fully realized by virtue of the peculiarities of most African countries, including MSMEs and weak purchasing power. Engaging the private sector in the policy-making process at the national, sub-regional levels and continental remains pertinent”.
“I salute the organizers of this meeting: the Pan African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PACCI) and the Ghana Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), but also the backers of this Conference, notably, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa/Africa Trade Policy Center and the African Union Commission for associating the private sector to this effort” said Nana Dr. Appiagyei Dankawoso, President of PACCI and GCCI. “We all know that the role of the private sector in the CFTA negotiations has been modest. We hope such meetings will help stimulate the process of private sector engagement at the national, regional and international levels on issues of trade policy”, he said.
With just three months before the signing of the Continental Free Trade Area agreement targeted for December 2017, we are starting to enter a new phase. The PACCI is seeing businesses across the continent play a significant role in the process of economic integration.
In this regard there is a need to coordinate the participation of the private sector and establish a formal structure for its engagement in the framework of the CFTA negotiations. Insufficient and disorganized private sector engagement may lead to protracted chaos and rejection of the agreement by businesses. PACCI has, therefore, an important role to play in leading private sector participation and engagement, in identifying business challenges and solutions to build a lasting business-oriented collaboration and accelerate the implementation of the agreement once negotiated. The African Technical Business Advisory Committee which will play the role assigned to the entity referred to as African Business Council in the CFTA structure, will comprise the private sector, industry associations and the wider community at the regional and national levels to ensure an inclusive and participatory approach to the integration process.
In this regard AU Commissioner Mr. Albert M. Muchanga noted “as we create this harmonized, attractive, large and growing market, your end of the bargain as the private sector is to give us quality, affordable and safe products and services that will facilitate increased intra-African trade.” He further called upon the private sector to work together in realizing the objectives of the Continental Free Area for the progress of Africa and to help in the lobbying of the legal text of the CFTA to be ratified with minimum delay by respective governments.
Dr. David Luke Program coordinator at the UNECA/ATPC stated this conference will stimulate the exchange of information between businesses, governments and international organizations in helping the private sector play active role in regional integration and trade initiatives. “Governments don’t trade, it is business enterprises that trade with each other. This is why at African Trade Policy Center (ATPC) we believe that the private sector must play a significant role in the negotiations leading to the conclusion of the CFTA” . He stressed the need for the private sector to engage with policy makers at the national level.
“If anything today, we have spoken for ourselves. We have echoed that the CFTA legal texts are more than political and will require the attention of processes at grassroots level. For example, if we see the dispute resolution measures being discussed at continental level, they seem to be too political when in reality they should deal with the day to day business processes. Now, this deliberation has come up with sound recommendations, which in the opinion of business, are exactly things we want to see considered in the negotiation of CFTA” said Mr. Karl Chokotho, Managing Director, CMA CGM from Malawi and representative and member of COMESA business council.
The 2017 Africa Prosperity Conference confirmed that business has made significant progress in presenting a united business voice by reaffirming the role of PACCI as the continent's umbrella body for the business community and by tasking it to act as the Secretariat of the ATBAC to jumpstart its implementation.