Speakers at activities marking the 23rd Annual General Meeting of Shareholders (AGM) of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank’s) last week in Mahe, Seychelles, said that the visa regime operating across Africa was one of the greatest impediments to the growth of intra-African trade.
Wale Tinubu of Oando Group of Nigeria, Tony Elumelu of Heirs Holdings, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, Dr. Paul Fokam of Afriland First Bank, and Jean-Paul Adam, Minister of Finance, Trade, and Blue Economy, of Seychelles, among others, were almost unanimous in arguing that the requirement for visas for travel by Africans to other African countries made it extremely difficult for business people to travel around the continent to conduct business.
In presentations during the meeting of Afreximbank’s Advisory Group on Trade Finance and Export Development in Africa, they noted that only a handful of countries, including Seychelles, had removed the requirement for visiting Africans to obtain visas before traveling in. They stressed the urgency for all African countries to abolish visa requirements for short-term travels.
Chief Obasanjo said that the reasons often adduced for the visa requirement did not stand scrutiny as such short term travel for business posed little security risk. There had also been no evidence that countries that had implemented visa-free travel had been overrun by any mass influx of people.
He commended the recent introduction of a common African passport by the African Union, saying that “it will help movement of people and, consequently, intra-African trade”.
The speakers also stressed the need for African governments to support local entrepreneurs and to create champions to drive trade across the continent, heaping credit to Chief Obasanjo for his support to the private sector during his tenure as President of Nigeria when he encouraged many entrepreneurs to participate in the country’s economic development.
In a presentation titled “Can Intra-African Trade Unlock Africa’s Industrial Potential”, Prof. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winner in economics and Professor at Columbia University in the United States, said that intra-regional trade could help African countries achieve necessary economies of scale
“The development of regional value chains can pave the way for ease of entry into global value chains and enhance the integration of the region into the global economy,” argued Prof. Stiglitz.
He said that Africa’s priority should be trade and the implementation of appropriate industrial and trade promotion policies to take advantage of the window of opportunities presented by the major changes occurring in the global economic landscape.
The changes included the emergence of China as a very large and rapidly growing market for African exports, and not just for its natural resources, and the rising wages in that country which was creating “space” in for labor-intensive, simple manufactures that Africa could easily occupy, and eventually, for less labor-intensive and more complex manufacturers, he said.
Earlier, in an opening statement, Dr. Benedict Oramah, President of Afreximbank, said that greater intra-African trade would foster unity and put Africa on the path to industrialization, sustained economic growth and structural transformation and greater relevance in global affairs.
“Boosting intra-African trade will also reduce the exposure of the region to recurrent commodity price shocks,” he said, adding that Afreximbank had decided to promote intra-African trade to serve as the pivot around which the continent’s developmental aspirations would revolve.
The AGM activities began on Wednesday with the seminars of the Advisory Group on Trade Finance and Export Development in Africa, which lasted through Thursday and were followed, also on Thursday, by a trade exhibition and an investment forum focused on investment opportunities in Seychelles. The activities will end on Saturday with the formal Annual General Meeting of Shareholders of the Bank.