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Overview of the 14th World Export Development Forum in Kigali

Wednesday, October 08, 2014 > 13:06:16
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(New Business Ethiopia)

Exports and Trade are the bedrocks of International economic and even political relationship ever since the advent of the nation state. However the role of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the export trade as well as job creation is one important aspect that’s often overlooked in international trade.

The 14th edition of the World Export Development Forum (WEDF) organized by the International Trade Center (ITC) and hosted by the Rwandan Forum (RDB) in the lush city of Kigali however was held with the aim of bridging the perception gap about SMEs and their job and export potential. Conjunctively the 3rd edition of the Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum (WVEF) was also held there.

Held From September 15-17, under the title “SMEs: creating jobs through trade” it included programs for a strong business to business networking opportunities in sectors such as Agro-processing, horticulture, textiles, tourism and information and communication technology (ICT) among many items of discussion. 

Rwanda a model of never giving up principle

While the fact that the first ever WEDF conference was held for the first time in an African city, a revelation for many delegates was Rwanda itself which two decades ago was widely known for a genocide that killed about 800,000 citizens. 

Paul Kagame the President of Rwanda, who commanded an army that stopped the genocide, and has steered the small East African nation through a tragic history and turbulent neighborhood gave to the audience one motto for the country’s  apparent turnaround “never give up hope”.

“This conference is about one of the most challenging aspect of international development for landlocked countries and small island states where SMEs are the norm” he stated adding that the first obstacle is a belief that we can’t build, but although our path to prosperity can be slower and harder, it’s possible to have that through hard work, resilience and perseverance in the face of setback.

Kagame further stated by saying second mindset for small landlocked nations like is about encouraging export development through promotion of competition and ways to look to develop yourself to overcome geographical disadvantages not only with similar economies but with the best ones also.

However he cautioned that the top priority for people is job creation by building a competitive economy with smart technology and overseen with good governance, and surmised that “real wealth is in the head not in the ground”.

“Africa’s potential is infinite”   

Echoing Kagame’s optimism Arancha Gonzalez Executive Director of ITC stated that with Sub-Saharan Africa the second largest growing region in the world, second most attractive place for business, she hopes this discussion will help to turn this promise to pathway to development.

“Business in Africa is focused on extractive industries, but it’s shifting also to value adding industries” Gonzalez stated that for landlocked countries tourism, the ICT sector and infrastructure could be strong pillars of growth to a path of sustainable development and job creation.

She further stated 500 million jobs are needed to cope with demographic trends by 2030, and SMEs can have a lion’s share in that regard by internationalizing it through a high paying jobs and the reduction of the informal sector.

ITC projects African markets which are growing at six percent annually, and have foreign direct investment reaching USD 57 billion need to translate this potential into more and better jobs for the youth, into more equal societies with economically empowered women and into better serviced rural communities which are still the majority in most African nations. 

Regional integration the way 

While the conference discussed extensively about international trade benefits it also highlighted the need for countries like Rwanda whose nearest access to the sea is about 1500 kms away to have regional bodies to grow their potential. 

Francis Gatare CEO, of RDB stated that while his country had been put on the top three in Africa of World Bank doing business report and Global Competitiveness Index, it’s also focusing on regional economies to sustain this rank.

“Rwanda is involved in the Northern Corridor Project with Uganda and Kenya to spur economic growth and development with a view to boost regional trade” Gatare stated adding that Intra-African trade share is about 11.1 percent and Global trade share is only 3.3 percent.

The Northern corridor project will allow with a single visa, a business traveler or a tourist can now travel between the three countries and tap into a market of almost 100 million people with only their national identity cards as a requirement.

Gatare highlighting his country’s dependence on SMEs as an important contributor to national production, export revenue and domestic employment across all sectors has been able to increase exports at an average of 20 percent for the last five years.

Rwanda hopes it’s SME dominated economy will help in diversifying exports and adding value to it to further drive economic growth and increase it’s annual export target to 28 percent annually while becoming a knowledge based economy.

India an emerging economy trade partner 

The 14th WEDF conference was also a venue to engage with the rising economic powers of China and India with particularly the latter having especially an important role in it.

Suresh Chaturvedi Senior Member, Confederation of Indian Industry and Group Chairman of Overseas Infrastructure Alliance a government affiliate shared some of his Indian wisdom to the conference and about Rwanda itself.

“Some 20 years ago Rwanda was known for all the wrong reasons, but this setback didn’t stop it, what Rwanda has achieved in the last 20 years, India hasn’t been able in 67 years of independence” he stated adding that India was left with little by the British colonialists, and straight after independence India jumped to the service sector neglecting the SME sector.

However he stated this shortcoming is being solved and with the coming to power of a new administration in India this year and with India looking outwards also to regions like Africa the 3rd India-Africa summit to be held this year, the role of SME’s not only in national economy but also for international economic relationship will be highlighted as well as its role in skill development, capacity building and transfer of technologies.   

The 14th WEDF conference which coincides with the 50th anniversary of ITC’s founding, hosted about 800 delegates from 73 countries and saw important personalizes attend the event including Ethiopia’s first lady Roman Tesfaye and message through video link by UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon.


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