Kenya on Friday called for increased intra-Africa trade to boost economic development.
Chris Kiptoo, principal secretary in the ministry of industry, trade and cooperatives, told journalists in Nairobi that the current level of intra-Africa trade stood at 12 percent versus an estimated 59 percent for the European Union and 37 percent in North America.
“Increased intra-Africa holds the key to transform Africa into a major industrial and economic giant,” Kiptoo said during a forum on Kenya’s preparations to participate in the Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF) that will take place on Dec. 11-17 in Egypt.
The inaugural trade fair is being organized by the African Export Import Bank (Afreximbank) and the African Union. An Intra-Africa Trade Finance and Payments Conference will run alongside the pan-African trade fair.
According to the organizer, the IATF intends to attract approximately 70,000 visitors, buyers and sellers as well as 1,000 exhibitors.
Kiptoo said that so far 11 Kenyan firms were expected to showcase their products during the continental trade fair. Kiptoo said that Kenya was prioritizing trade with the African continent due to its huge untapped potential.
He added that Africa was already the most important export market for Kenya because its accounts for about 45 percent of outbound trade.
The Kenyan official said Africa absorbed most of Kenya’s manufactured exports as compared to the rest of world that bought unprocessed agricultural goods.
He said that Kenya was targeting foreign investments that would be used to produce goods for Africa as well as the rest of the world.
Kudakwashe Matereke, Afreximbank regional chief operating officer in east Africa, said that so far 42 African countries had confirmed and taken up country pavilions at the IATF.
Matereke said that the exhibition would target agriculture and agro-processing, automotive, clothing and textiles, construction, consumer goods, light manufacturing as well as creative industries.
He noted that very few countries contributed to intra-African trade with the top four being South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Nigeria. The AU has set a target of increasing intra-African trade to 24 percent by 2022.
The Afreximbank official said that one of the biggest challenges towards expanding intra-Africa trade was lack of adequate infrastructure to link the continent.
He revealed that the current stock of infrastructure in the continent presently carried 102 trillion Kenya shillings (around 1 trillion U.S. dollars) worth of trade.
According to Matereke, lack of access to trade and market information around the African continent also hindered growth of intra-Africa trade.
He said that through import substitutions, intra-African trade could go up to 38 percent due to the continent’s high import bill from the rest of the world.
Peter Biwott, chief executive officer of Export Promotion Council said that once the African continental free trade area was operationalized, it would open up enormous opportunities for Kenyan manufacturers.
He said that Kenya was keen to participate in the African trade fair because the event would provide Kenyan exporters with a platform for entry into a single market of over one billion people.