Lusaka, Zambia, 17 November 2020 (ECA) – The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Sub-Regional Office for Southern Africa (SRO-SA), in collaboration with the SADC Business Council, organized a virtual Sensitization Forum for the private sector to stimulate discussions and facilitate dialogue on: Post-COVID Recovery Strategies and Regional Integration in Southern Africa: Challenges and Opportunities. The Forum sought to critically review policy implications and potential areas of development that the private sector could engage in as part of building back better and faster in the post-COVID era. It also sought to interrogate the challenges and opportunities faced by the private sector in the regional integration processes.
In his official opening statement, the Acting Director of SRO-SA, Mr. Sizo Mhlanga alluded to the need for countries to create conditions for the private sector to be more effective drivers of industrialization, economic diversification, trade and investment in the region which would result in reinvigorated economic growth and decent jobs. He reiterated ECA’s commitment to supporting member States to harness the benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) for higher levels of socio-economic development and prosperity for its citizens. For ECA, “the AfCFTA is a game changer for the continent and the private sector is a critical actor for realising the gains of the trade regime. It is important therefore that the private sector understands what the AfCFTA is about, how to take advantage of the opportunities and be alive to the challenges and opportunities encountered during its implementation,” he advised.
He further advised that the COVID-19 crisis presented opportunities for member States to rethink their development strategies and take advantage of science, technology and innovation, digitalization, sustainable and inclusive industrialization, climate-friendly strategies and regional integration as pathways for building economic resilience against any future shocks. “The private sector should be the natural partners to enable this – policy makers should therefore ensure that there is greater participation by the private sector in policy development processes and the attendant implementation in the region. “Creating space for public-private sector dialogue and exchanges is therefore critical for policy effectiveness”, Mr. Mhlanga emphasized.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Peter Varndell, Chief Executive Officer, SADC Business Council advised the Forum of his organization’s mandate which involved policy advocacy, marketing intelligence and addressing non-tariff barriers and post-COVID-19 trade issues to support the private sector. He called on all partners to reach out to their newly established organization for partnerships and regional activities to stimulate trade and socio-economic development.
The virtual event was organized in three distinct but inter-related segments. While the first segment focused on: ‘The Impact of COVID-19 on Businesses in Southern Africa: Findings and Policy Recommendations,’ the second, focused on ‘Post-COVID-19 Recovery Strategies for Southern Africa: Challenges and Opportunities for the Private Sector’ and the final segment focused on stakeholder perspectives on regional integration in Southern Africa. Panelists during the first segment, chaired by Ms Daniel Stuebi, Technical Advisor, GIZ included: Mr. Paul Baker, (International Economics Consulting), Mr. Christie Keulder (Survey Warehouse), Mr. Martyn Davies, (Deloitte South Africa); Mr. Giovanni Pasquali (University of Manchester) and Ms. Lily Sommer (ATPC, ECA). The panelists observed that although Africa had been spared by the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of human fatalities, the major challenges to business included, the drop-in demand, low cash flows, high logistics costs, delay in shipments and shortage of supplies. The panel further noted that, access to funding remained a major challenge faced by Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, particularly with the anticipated second wave of the pandemic and the expected likelihood of global recession, supply chain issues, lack of emergency preparedness plans, challenges on tax, trade and immigration as additional causes for future concern. Furthermore, the panel observed that the automotive value chain in South Africa was already under stress prior to the pandemic and advised that post-COVID-19, the industry had started looking for non-African markets and developed new digital ways of working. The panel noted that the failure of firms, governments and workers to reach an agreement to address the impact of COVID-19 in the apparel sector in Eswatini had resulted in the loss of jobs and public income. To address apparent gender challenges across regional member States, the panel highlighted the need for gender mainstreaming into supporting cross-border and informal traders addressing the impacts of COVID-19.
The second segment of the deliberations, moderated by Mr. Andrew Mold ECA SRO-EA, included presentations by Trudi Hartzenberg, Trade Law Centre for Southern Africa (TRALAC), Mr. Rafik Feki (UNIDO), Ms. Cecilia Njenga (UNEP), Mr. Benjamin Kwasi Addom, (Wageningen University and Research) and Ms. Sofia Meneses Dias Cassimo, (Mozambique Chamber of Business Women and Entrepreneurship) underscored the challenges of COVID-19 on regional economic development and inequality and called for the recalibration of national and regional policies to address the fallout and also for the introduction of a simplified trading regime to smoothen regional trade and boost economies. The panel highlighted the need for investment in greener technologies to anchor recovery and economic resilience and thus emphasized the need to reallocate capital towards greening of manufacturing and other economic sectors to build more climate resilient and sustainable communities and nations. Furthermore, the panel underscored the role of digitalization in raising agricultural productivity and creating opportunities for small scale farmers and highlighted the role that governments should play in providing data infrastructure. In addition, the panel highlighted the capital, skills, technology and market challenges faced by women entrepreneurs and called for support to these businesses to exploit the opportunities from the AfCFTA.
The final segment on: ‘The private sector in regional integration in Southern Africa’ reviewed the AfCFTA Agreement in terms of its scope, objectives, the protocols and provisions and the role of regional integration in Southern Africa. The panel, chaired by Trudi Hartzenberg, comprised of Mr. Nathi Dhlamini (Business ESwatini); Ms. Madalitso Kazembe, (Malawi Chambers of Commerce and Industry); Mr. Francois Mark (AfriEDX Technology), Mr. William Jimerson (Musa Capital), Mr. Vusi Mabena (Mining Industry Association of Southern Africa); Mr. Joseph Musariri (Federation of Clearing and Forwarding Associations of Southern Africa) and Mr. Jason Blackman, (DHL Express). During this segment, the participants shared perspectives on the challenges to trade in Southern Africa and those impediments precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The panelists identified addressing the regional infrastructure deficit, lowering the costs of doing business, enhancing the provision of information about preferential trade agreements and providing stability in the policy and regulatory environment as key to unlocking the potential of the private sector in the region. The meeting called for support of businesses towards leveraging opportunities from digitalization and the green economy to build back better and faster and bounce beyond. Furthermore, they called for greater private sector engagement in the ongoing AfCFTA negotiations to allow all stakeholders to express any challenges experienced with complying with provisions of regional trade agreements to ensure that these are factored into the processes going forward.
The virtual Forum was attended by over 100 participants drawn from mainly the business community across the 11 SADC member States, the SADC Business Council, government officials and experts, UN organizations and ECA Divisions.
The Sub-Regional Office for Southern Africa
UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)
P.O. Box 30647, Lusaka, Zambia.
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