South Africa: IATF nearly hits $40bn target as fair ends in Durban

By Xolisa Phillip, in Johannesburg
Posted on Thursday, 25 November 2021 16:43

Heads of state at IATC line up for a photo on 15 November 2021 (Photo: Xolisa Philip)
Heads of state at IATC line up for a photo on 15 November 2021 (Photo supplied by IATF2021.)

Tapped at the last-minute to host the continent’s leading trade fair, Durban has risen to the occasion and exceeded targets, according to the Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF) 2021 organisers.  

The South African coastal city, which is situated in KwaZulu-Natal, assumed hosting duties four months before the event was scheduled to take place, after Kigali failed to construct an exhibition centre on time.

46 African countries were represented at different exhibition stands that were erected at the Durban International Convention Centre. In total, 128 countries were represented at IATF 2021, taking into consideration the delegates, exhibitors, buyers, and speakers.

Durban attracted 1,161 exhibitors against a target of 1,100. The centre’s private meeting rooms, where dealmakers met to conclude agreements, saw a preliminary $36bn in deals concluded. The organisers have expressed confidence that the $40bn target will be met once all the data is collated.

They are also optimistic that Abidjan, which has been announced as the host city of the 2023 edition of IATF, will exceed the successes achieved in Durban. Registration has already opened for the next trade fair.

Benedict Oramah, president and chairperson of Afreximbank, says: “We announced Abidjan. As is tradition, the next Advisory Council meeting will consider the targets, the partners. In Egypt, we had 7,000 visitors. Here, the provisional figures show a doubling of the visitors.”

Lessons learned

“In Abidjan, we are likely to overcome some of the challenges that we faced here. Basically, visa problems. Passport problems. We’ve taken all these on board [to] ensure that they are resolved,” Oramah tells The Africa Report.

“With regard to the deals done, how […] do we make sure they come to fruition? We […] follow them [up]. If you ask those exhibiting, they will tell you that they had people coming to them every day to … [find out about] contracts they are signing and [they] took copious notes,” he adds.

Furthermore, “we have a comprehensive record of every exhibitor here. We are building a database of all the exhibitors, which we are putting into our portal. … [We have] also encouraged them to go to the customer due diligence repository platform to make it easier for [deals] to be closed and for people to be confident to deal with them,” says Oramah.

You can open markets all you want. You can reduce barriers to trade. You can bring tariffs to zero. You can implement non-tariff barriers, but if there is no actual trade that is happening across regions and across borders, then the market access is meaningless…

The deals that Afreximbank records and tracks are not limited to financing. They also include partnership investments and trade contracts. “I think this morning [Sunday] Côte D’Ivoire and Algeria signed a big contract. […],” Oramah says.

“The trade fair is not an end in itself. It is a platform to develop business to grow intra-African trade. Deals are still being compiled. We have about $36bn in deals concluded in 2021,” says the Afreximbank president.

Deepening partnerships

In 2018, when the first IATF was hosted in Cairo by Egypt, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat did not exist. Since then, “we [have become] a co-partner to Afreximbank in the organisation of this trade fair”, says Wamkele Mene, the general secretary of the (AfCFTA) Secretariat.

“In 2023, when we get to Abidjan, we hope we exceed whatever amount we would have concluded here in terms of trade transactions,” says Mene, who adds that “the trade fair is happening at a time when we are intensifying implementation of the AfCFTA.”

According to Mene, AfCFTA opens up new markets, but beyond market access, “is the trading itself and that is where the trade fair becomes important.”

“You can open markets all you want. You can reduce barriers to trade. You can bring tariffs to zero. You can implement non-tariff barriers, but if there is no actual trade that is happening across regions and across borders then the market access is meaningless. This is the purpose of a trade fair: to match market access – that the AfCFTA creates – with actual traders who will now be the drivers of trade,” says Mene.

He notes that there are still major constraints to intra-Africa trade, such as infrastructure and road networks. “Those are outside of our control as a secretariat, but we are working closely with the development finance institutions in Africa [that are] responsible for infrastructure development.”

AU backing

Albert Muchanga, the African Union (AU) commissioner for trade, says: “Out of this trade fair, we are going to prepare a report and … [it] will go to ministers. Through the permanent representatives, all the member states are going to be aware of the outcome of this meeting.”

“In conveying that report, there’s always a recommendation for increased participation [of] member states in future trade fairs. The number has increased this time around. Through the Advisory Council of the IATF, there’s a focused campaign which reaches out to all the member states and the rest of the world,” says Muchanga.

“At the level of the AU, we are always in touch with the business houses and the embassies from the rest of the world to [peak their] interest […] in the IATF. [This] will go on into the 2023 [event],” says Muchanga.

Oramah credits Kanayo Awani, the managing director of Afreximbank’s Intra-African Trade Initiative, for the success of the Durban edition of IATF 2021.

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