H.E. Anthony De Bono

The African Trade Information Sharing Portal initiative – brainchild of Ghana’s Hon Minister Dr Ekwow Spio Garbrah – upheld by H.E. Anthony De Bono, former Malta’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of Jordan and Chairman Emeritus of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation
Introduction

In preparation for the 10th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) which is scheduled to take place in Nairobi-Kenya from 15-18 December 2015, the African Union held a Meeting of Trade Ministers on 20th July 2015 in Nairobi-Kenya.

During the deliberations, the AU Ministers were unanimous in reaffirming the strategic objectives for an African Trade Policy, which should be based on Africa’s industrialization in order to achieve the structural transformation of African economies.

The Conference was addressed by a distinguished cadre of personalities including H.E. Mrs. Fatima Haram Acyl, AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry, H.E. Mr. Mukhisa Khituyi, the UNCTAD Secretary General, Mr. David Shark, WTO Deputy Director General and, Mrs. Dorothy Tembo, Deputy Exeutive Director of the International Trade Center.

The meeting was chaired by H.E. Ambassador (Dr.) Amina C. Mohamed, the Kenya Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

During the meeting, the Ghana Minister for Trade and Industry, Hon. Dr. Ekwow Spio –Garbrah as is customary with his reputed leadership demeanor which excels on clear strategic vision, advocated the setting up of an unprecedented “African Trade Information Sharing Portal to boost trade and investment ties between African countries”.

For a full decade and for most of the time as his Chairman, I have witnessed Minister Dr. Spio-Garbrah’s highly acclaimed professional work in the area of ICT and telecommunications during his term of office as the CEO of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization.

It was, therefore, of no surprise that he has opted to tap his globally much admired expertise in the field of ICT, underscoring the urgent strategic need for the internet as the driving force to launch the proposal to the African Union, whereby an “African Trade Information Sharing Portal” to boost trade among AU Member States is incepted. This, with a view to enhancing Africa’s potential as a major growth frontier in the Trade and Investment sectors. Such a tool would enable Africa Union member states to take advantage of economies of scale within Africa’s regional value chains that would connect them to the global supply chain.

Minister Spio-Garbrah’s proposal should enable Africa – an emerging market – to be aggressively offensive and ambitious, to promote the private sector by developing the capacity of the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). With this direction SMEs would improve their competitiveness in an export-led growth policy framework in the domestic market to compete in the prevailing global market place, which is governed by the rules-based multilateral trading system of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Indeed, Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrah’s call has coincided with the 2015 Addis Ababa Declaration adopted in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 4th September 2015 by AU Ministers in charge of Communication and Information and Communication Technology (CICT).

In a nutshell the Declaration calls on all AU Member States to coordinate their efforts to put effective use the access to information in collaboration with the Regional Economic Communities including, among others, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) as well as the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD, the African Internet Exchange Point (AXIS), One Africa Network Initiative, African regional Internet Governance Forum (IGFs) and MENOS (Multimedia Exchange Network Over Satellite).

There is no denying the fact that that while Africa ships over 80% of her exports to the European Union, China and the US regrettably intra- regional trade remain as low as 10% to 12% on the continent.

Consequently, the African Trade Portal envisaged by Ghana’s Trade and Industry Minister, Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrah is not only a critical need but mandatory if Africa is to take advantage of the current shifting international balance of power to become a major global actor.

Through my current and hitherto international responsibilities I have crossed paths with several Governments of Africa who, in the main, believe in the promise and unfulfilled latent potentials of Africa becoming a major economic and industrial powerhouse. The challenge however will be whether the continent can implement, timely and effectively, Ghana’s Trade and Industry Minister’s vision.

Of specific pertinence to my homeland, Malta just like other EU countries is very interested in expanding its trade with Africa and with Malta’s strategic position between Africa and Europe, the country is geographical advantaged to potentially benefit more from this African Trade Portal.

It is in this light that I strongly would support Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrah’s call for the African Trade Information Sharing Portal. To that end, I would further recommend that the AU effort to implement Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrahs’s proposed Africa Trade Information Sharing Portal would require a coordinated effort drive even at the AU Commission. To my mind the AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry, Mrs. Fatima Harm Acyl may wish to collaborate very closely with her counterpart Mrs. Dr. Elham Mahmood Ahmed Ibrahim, the AU Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy – in charge of ICT, to achieve this African Trade Information Sharing Portal. I am convinced that Minister Dr Ekwow Spio-Garbrah would not have overlooked the fact that the portal will emerge as one of the major driving instruments to promote intra- African trade propelling in the process the realization of the African Union Continental Free Trade Area (C-FTA) which is to be established by 2017 – just around the corner.

In addition to the above, I would also suggest that the African Trade Information Sharing Portal would also provide valuable information on goods and services available in African countries that have signed on to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the European Union and West Africa, the European Union and East African Community, the European Union and SADC. Such a Trade Information Sharing Portal would certainly facilitate Business-to Business Meetings, Buyer-Seller Meeting and promotion of Investment and Business Fora between African countries-side on the one hand and the business community of the European Union side on the other hand. Furthermore, such an Africa Trade Information Sharing Portal would help promote the development dimension of the EPA with emphasis on addressing the supply-side constraints of the EPA through the implementation of the EPA Accompanying Measures Strategy which some AU Member States have already put in place.

As a Maltese citizen meaning a European, I am of the firm believe that the African Trade Portal proposed by Ghana’s Trade and Industry Minister should also be supported by the European Union in order to improve on the information gap that currently exists between the EU and Africa. This will help not only Europe but also Africa in the provision of a more precise picture of the economic activities in Africa and to give economic partners like the EU a better data set with which to work with.

Driven by my personal relationship with Africa, I believe the AU could better help the continent with this establishment so its development partners could formulate a more coherent agenda for Africa rather than the multispeed approaches that Europe and the rest of the world have adopted to North Africa, South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.

While I conclude my submission, I wish to make a clarion call to Ghana’s Trade and Industry Minister, Hon Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrah and to H.E. President John Mahama not to relent but seek to spearhead an African Renaissance in the same determination that the Honourble Minister and yours truly had, unprecedentedly, mobilized most of the ICT Ministers to secure a leading and effective role at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CGHOM) held in Malta a decade ago, thereby generating intellectual appreciation of the growth and importance of ICTs in the developments process, the challenges it faces and the steps that the Commonwealth needed to take to maximize these opportunities.

At the end of this month of November 2015, Malta will once again – after a decade – play host to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

This is a unique and timely occasion for H.E. President Mahama to give a very wide profile to the Pan African Trade information sharing platform by cementing the concept into his policy statement, leading to its eventual inclusion in the final declaration of the Commonwealth Heads of Government, thereby serving as the eventual meaningful contribution by Ghana at the 10th Ministerial World Trade Organisation Conference scheduled for December 2015 in Kenya.

A challenging opportunity indeed for President Mahama to translate Ghana’s vision into reality…Good luck Ghana.

Ambassador Anthony De Bono – Malta, Europe

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