The Sixth Global Business Forum Africa By Dubai Chamber and Expo 2020 Dubai Explores New Avenues Of UAE-Africa Cooperation

Dubai Chamber President and CEO H.E. Hamad Buamim highlights that the steady growth in Dubai Chamber membership reflects growing confidence in Dubai as a preferred hub for African companies.

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By Tamara Pupic

Dubai Chamber

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"Judging by economic indicators, it's safe to say that our efforts in Africa are bearing fruit," said H.E. Hamad Buamim, President and CEO of Dubai Chamber, at the opening session of the sixth edition of the Global Business Forum Africa (GBF Africa) in Dubai in October. "Dubai's non-oil trade with Africa reached US$50 billion in 2020, despite the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, marking the highest level in the last decade." In fact, H.E. Buamim noted that the number of African companies registered with Dubai Chamber has increased by 15.5% since 2019, with the figure reaching 24,800 today. At the same time, Dubai Chamber's representative offices in Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique and Kenya, have also proved instrumental in building bridges between UAE and African business communities.

Such figures highlighted the significance of this year's instalment of GBF Africa, with the two-day forum having been organized by Dubai Chamber in partnership with Expo 2020 Dubai to explore new avenues of UAE-Africa economic cooperation. Indeed, GBF Africa has grown significantly over the last five editions, enabling business leaders to leverage the event's platform to explore concrete business prospects and partnership opportunities. And this year's event reiterated the importance of establishing a strong economic partnership between the UAE and Africa in order to enable African businesses to benefit from Dubai's leading position as a strategic trade hub connecting Africa with the rest of the world.

During a session titled "The Evolution of Global Trade," Dr. Deborah Elms, founder and CEO of the Asian Trade Centre, pointed out that Africa has great potential for business, and equally great challenges. "This must be dealt with seriously, considering the different interests and approaches of every country," she said. "In particular, the most impactful ones are interests related to investments, digital economy transformation, intellectual property, certificates of origin, and others. These issues need to be agreed upon to find a format that ensures the ease of business and drives growth."

Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Executive Chairman and CEO of the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, highlighted the need to accelerate procedures for economic integration between the African states taking part in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). "African countries have made a remarkable progress under AfCFTA, and they must enhance their growth, building on the agreement, ensuring accelerated change, to develop their economic performance. Benefiting from successful experiences, these countries can identify challenges accurately, find necessary solutions, and achieve transformation to bolster their position in global trade," he said.

To date, 54 countries signed to join AfCFTA, and 37 have fulfilled their commitments, said Kebour Ghenna, Executive Director of Pan-African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PACCI). "In addition, members have shown remarkable mutual understanding on many trade and economic issues, promising further achievements in the near future," Ghenna said. "African states must not wait for all the procedures to be completed; there is a data gap to be addressed, challenges to be faced through a unified vision, and solutions to be developed before implementing the AfCFTA in the best manner."

Related: Ask The Expert: Omar Khan, Director - International Offices, Dubai Chamber Of Commerce And Industry

One of the key sessions at the event was entitled "Restore: Made In Africa, For Africa," which hosted three speakers -Phyllis Wakiaga, CEO, Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), Eddy Sebera, Managing Director of Mara Phones in Rwanda, and Mohammed Dewji, President of MeTL Group Tanzania- to talk about how homegrown African multinationals can reverse the historic dominance of overseas firms on the continent. "If you have capital, Africa has a lot to offer," said Sebera. "Africa has started transforming from a trading to a manufacturing hub when countries started introducing taxation that supported local manufacturing."

According to Sebera, over time, multinational with manufacturing plants in Europe could not compete with the lower prices of goods manufactured in Africa. At the same time, he pointed out that, in today's world, there is no 100% African, or European, or Asian product, since the manufacturing sector, and trade itself, have become truly global. However, Africa has managed to increase the percentage of participation of its companies in the overall value chain, he said.

"We have managed to capture more value for the continent within this process, but for any product to succeed in Africa, you need quality and affordability," he said. Sebera then gave an example from his work at Mara Phones, which runs Africa's first smartphone factory and is a regional pioneer with big continental ambitions. "For Africa to become successful, we need more digital transformation, and for that, we need to put devices into people's hands, to make it easier for them to become a part of digital transformation," he said. "Yet, at the moment, we are still shy about the African product, so we need to press on our manufacturing, not only in the smartphones industry, but in any other, so that people are comfortable with them."

Dewji, whose MeTL Group is the largest textile producer in Sub-Saharan Africa, worth more than $1 billion, and with a presence in 11 countries, added that the COVID-19 crisis has put the African product into the spotlight. "During COVID-19, our local manufacturing sector blossomed, because any friction in global supply chains benefits local industries," Dewji said. "Even before that, multinationals have been choosing not to have a base in Africa, because they feared instability, red tape, lack of skilled workforce, and so on, and hence, I'm in the position of dominance now, because of that fear."

Dewji concluded by saying that he is very bullish on Africa and its potential. "If you look at East Africa, we've had a 6-7% GDP growth annually, and no inflation, so our countries have been stable," Dewji concluded. "With our large population, and with the increase of purchasing power of our younger populations, our bureaucracy will be less of a problem, although that has been improving too."

Related: Tapping Into Opportunity: How Businesses In Dubai Are Accessing New Markets And Verticals Through COVID-19

Tamara Pupic

Managing Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Tamara Pupic is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.

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