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African CEO Forum kicks off in Rwanda

By EDITH MUTETHYA | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-03-27 08:38

Paul Kagame, Rwanda president. [Photo/CHINA DAILY]

Political and business leaders to discuss Continental Free Trade Area

The 2019 African CEO Forum kicked off on Monday in Kigali, Rwanda, with a call for the public and private sectors to make the Continental Free Trade Area, or CFTA, a reality.

Speaking during the opening ceremony, Rwanda President Paul Kagame said the CFTA is on the cusp of coming into force, noting that only one more ratification is needed.

"This is where the hard work begins. So it is very timely for us to gather here today to discuss how to make the most out of this historic agreement, among other important issues," he said.

Kagame said open, responsive and accountable governance is critical for the success of the CFTA, which would open up movement in trade, services and investments across national borders.

"We therefore need the urgency and focus that only the private sector can provide, with its unique ability to envision new opportunities on the horizon and seize them," Kagame said.

The president said this is the right time for the private sector leaders to reflect on what needs to be changed and improved on their end. This will create a situation where the private and public sectors will challenge and push each other to make more progress.

Kagame said the implementation of the CFTA at national level will require constant dialogue and flexibility.

"The full involvement of the African business community is critical to keep us on track," he said.

Kagame said it's the responsibility of Africans to ensure that deeper integration translates into prosperity and well-being for all people.

"What we need is more business activity with each other. So that we see the emergence of global African firms with continental scope and scale, which champion the interests and ambitions of our people," he said.

Philippe Le Houerou, chief executive officer of International Finance Corporation, said the CEO forum is an opportunity for business leaders to share their experiences and ideas with their counterparts as well as for the private sector to engage with the government.

He said the private sector has a critical role to play by providing inputs to government policies to ensure that they are sound and workable.

Houerou said African governments should provide an enabling environment for businesses through identifying the right reforms and reducing red tapes.

Amir Ben, managing director of Jeune Afrique Media Group who is also the president and founder of Africa CEO Forum, said along with economic integration, ambition is the real theme of the conference.

"We are here today with a new ambition, to give the private sector leaders, the will to become the true ambassadors of economic integration and to make sure the CFTA becomes a business reality," he said.

As an African CEO, Ben confessed that he was skeptical when he first heard about the CFTA. But little by little, months after months, it became a reality.

"We need to thank President Kagame, Carlos Lopes, the former executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger Republic and many others, as they were instrumental in the past three years in making this trade agreement a reality," he said.

Over the past few months, Ben said a lot has been written and said about the benefits from a more integrated Africa - more trade, more growth, more jobs, but not enough about the risks of not fully supporting integration.

"Our ambition for this forum is to kick-start a global conversation between the public and private sectors on how to move forward together," Ben said.

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