MINSK: Africa needs to foster partners in the developed world to further boost its international trade and economic growth.
This is the consensus at the recent maiden forum on “Belarus-Africa: New Frontiers’’ held in Belarus.
The forum, organised by the African Export Import Bank (Afreximbank) and the Belarusian Government brought together government officials and businesses in Belarus and Africa to explore more opportunities on trade relations.
Dr Benedict Oramah, the President of Afreximbank, who set the tone of discussion at the forum, said that though the total African trade grew one trillion dollars in 2016, Africa had the potential to grow the trade volume exponentially in the next few years.
He said that economic prosperity of the continent was, in the main, being stifled by poor infrastructure, stressing that Africa needed 93 billion dollars annually in the next 10 years to bridge the infrastructure deficit.
Oramah said that the potential of the continent was derivable from its vast resources in land, agriculture, population, water and minerals.
“The size of the African economy at 2.5 trillion dollars ranks as the number 10 in the world and strong, averaging 4.2 per cent in the past 10 years.
“The population, at about 1.2 billion, is the third largest in the world.
Belarus is a small country of less than 10 million people in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) from where it gained independence in 1991 after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
It has a well developed economy producing heavy industrial machinery and equipment, manufacturing, agricultural and energy products as well as expertise in ICT, mining and road construction.
Its biggest trading partner is Russia from where it imports petroleum and agricultural products.
Unemployment rate in Belarus is about 1.5 per cent, most of which are women.
Mrs Sibanda-Thusi Nomatosho, the South African Ambassador to the Russian Federation, advised African businesses to seek new opportunities in Belarus to improve their development.
Nomatosho expressed regret that African businessmen would come to do business in Europe without consulting their embassies for follow-up information.
She said that there were 45 African ambassadors in Russia, who met regularly on African interests in Russia.
Nomatosho advised African businesses to seek assistance of Afreximbank to get more information on global trade as the bank was well placed to get and provide business information around the world.
The ambassador said that Afreximbank would fast-track the process of getting business information to businesses than ambassadors as the bank was not an appendage of government.
Nomatosho said that political relationship between Belarus and Africa was very strong and that would impact positively on business relationships.
Contributing, Mr Valentin Rybakov, the Vice-Prime Minister in the Belarus Ministry of Foreign Affairs, advised African businesses to take interest in Belarus, saying that he foresaw a bright future in the trade relationship.
Rybakov expressed optimism that the trade relations would grow to a level where joint assembly plants would be established in Africa to process agricultural products for export and in other areas.
He said that Belarus could not establish embassy in all countries in Africa, but his ministry as a facilitator, would keep encouraging Belarusians on partnerships with Africa.
Also, Mr Igor Baylor, the Vice-Minister for Agriculture and Food in Belarus, said that though the countries were far flung apart, but the internet had brought the world closer for business to thrive across the regions.
In the last one year when this initiative was consummated, trade talks between Belarus and Africa are already in advanced stages in Senegal, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, The Gambia, South Sudan, Republic of Chad, Zambia, Sierra Leone and Republic of Congo.
To expand the trade and investment flow between the two regions, Afreximbank and Development Bank of Belarus are pooling together 880 million dollars to finance Belarusian and African businesses under this platform.
The high point of the two-day forum was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on the framework for the disbursement of 150 million dollars loan facility.