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The EU-Africa Business Forum is held for 4th time

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After Brussels in 2006, Accra in 2007 and Nairobi in 2009, the EU-Africa Business Forum is meeting in Tripoli (Libya) from 26 to 28 November 2010 on the periphery of the 3rd EU-Africa Summit.

The heads of multinational companies, SMEs, employer organizations and multilateral and regional institutions will debate key issues in their fields, which will subsequently be presented to the heads of state and government. As an integral part of the EU-Africa strategy, the Business Forum plays a major role in the 3rd partnership, focusing on business, regional integration and infrastructure.

The Cotonou Agreement gave the private sector in the ACP countries a key role in the field of development in view of the unique contribution it can make to economic growth and thus to poverty reduction. The EU has since increased its aid to this sector through national and regional indicative programmes and a range of instruments, including the facility for improving the business environment (BIZclim); the promotion of investment, inter-company partnership and cooperation (PROINVEST); the increase in the capacity for financing investments (investment facility managed by the EIB); the promotion of non-financial services for the development of SMEs (corporate development centre); and support for micro-enterprises and microfinance.

The Business Forum, a joint EU and AU initiative, was launched in 2006 with a triple objective:

  • to contribute to the development of an environment favourable to business and investment in Africa by encouraging entrepreneurial spirit, good governance and the reforms needed to boost investor confidence;
  • to support the contribution of European companies to the development of the African private sector and to work in partnership to facilitate business opportunities;
  • to strengthen the voice and position within Africa of the private sectors from both continents.

The forum enables the views of the business community to be presented to European and African political leaders and involves the private sector in defining Africa’s development policy and its relations with the EU.

The EU-Africa Business Forum is most definitely an effective platform for dialogue and an important means of incorporating the contribution of the private sector.

Mr. Cheikh Modibo Diarra

The IT multinational Microsoft was among the forum participants. The astrophysicist Cheikh Modibo Diarra, chairman of Microsoft Africa, said: “The EU-Africa Business Forum is most definitely an effective platform for dialogue and an important means of incorporating the contribution of the private sector. Like the EU-Africa strategy, its overall aim is to support the efforts of the African countries in achieving the Millennium Development Goals and their progressive integration into the global economy. Four years after its launch, the forum is seeking to increase its impact on political dialogue and the private sector’s contribution to strengthening economic links which will produce mutual benefits for Europe and Africa.

The forum creates public/private partnerships, supported by regional organisations and the EU, which include drawing up recommendations and pilot projects in the information and communications technology (ICT), business, SME, infrastructure and education sectors.”

Cheikh Diarra highlights, among others, the partnerships between:&

  • the EU, the Regional Investment Agency (RIA), UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization) and the private sector to implement programmes aiming to promote the growth of SMEs and direct investment in Africa;
  • the EU, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the private sector to facilitate trade with and within Africa by developing electronic customs;
  • the EU, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the private sector to develop ICT infrastructure and a programme aiming to improve access to and promote the use of new technologies;
  • the EU, Tunisia, Cape Verde and the private sector to foster universal access to primary education by 2015, in line with the second Millennium Goal.

The multinational Unilever (food, household and personal hygiene products), which is present in 170 countries worldwide, is also a forum member. “We are expanding our operations in Africa - €2.5 billion in 2009 - from South Africa to North Africa, passing through the Central Africa region (which covers all of sub-Saharan Africa with the exception of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and Lesotho),” explained Giulia Di Tommaso, Head of External Affairs for Africa, the Middle East and Turkey at the Unilever Corporation.

The private sector remains a key player at the EU-Africa Business Forum. The main challenge is to find an effective way of releasing the continent’s growth potential.”

Mrs. Giulia Di Tommaso

She added: “We employ around 40,000 people there, including the farmers on our tea plantations, and we have sales and marketing offices equipped with adequate infrastructure in most African countries where we operate. We have production plants in various countries - including Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Algeria - a total of 27 production sites in 2009.”

“The private sector remains a key player at the EU-Africa Business Forum. The high participation rate of CEOs from European and African companies - who exchange views on how to conduct business and invest in Africa - consolidates the key role of the private sector in transforming the Africa-EU economic agenda into a genuine partnership in vital strategic areas, such as regional integration and trade, ICT, agriculture, energy and the growth of SMEs. The main challenge is to find an effective way of releasing the continent’s growth potential,” said Giulia Di Tommaso. 

The fourth EU-Africa Business Forum will strengthen the partnership between the public and private sectors

“Previous meetings have already led to remarkable progress being made. These achievements must now be consolidated and converted into specific actions,” revealed Giulia Di Tommaso. She added: We have high expectations, because we believe the discussion forum should be transformed into an action forum. The active support of the European Commission, the AU Commission and regional organizations underlines the determination of the public and private sectors to collaborate in this regard. The most fruitful form of partnership is where everyone plays a role and contributes to the solution.”

Giulia Di Tommaso quotes Frank Braeken, Unilever’s Executive Vice-President for North Africa, the Middle East and Central Africa: “Africa has needed the support of the developed world for many years and will continue to do so. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the best way of supporting Africa is to help it to create and consolidate an environment where business and entrepreneurial spirit can prosper.”

“The next Business Forum will include a new working group dedicated to research and identifying and implementing programmes that favour agriculture and the agri-food sector,” explained Cheikh Diarra. “Agriculture plays a fundamental role in developing countries to the extent that primary products often represent the main source of income. What’s more, around 60% of African workers are employed in the agricultural sector and almost three-fifths of African farmers practice subsistence farming,” he added.

Cheikh Diarra summed up: “The future success of the forum will require greater commitment both from regional organisations and the African private sector to enable companies, organisations and African leaders to act as catalysts in establishing an environment conducive to business.”