The Centre for Regional Integration in Africa (CRIA) and the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) are organising the 2023 Regional Integration Issues Forum (RIIF) conference for African SMEs in Accra.
The conference in collaboration with the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) will be on the theme: “Breaking Business Barriers for AfCFTA Acceleration” with support from Afreximbank and endorsement from the AfCFTA.
A statement issued in Accra by the organizers said the event would be held on September 27 to 28, 2023.
It said the RIIF was a sensitization mechanism and an interface platform for stakeholders involved in regional integration and continental trade initiatives.
The 2023 RIIF aims at increasing awareness of the AfCFTA and its benefits for SMEs, as well as to strengthen SMEs’ capacity to engage in intra-African trade.
The statement said the conference would bring together about 150 participants from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, and Zimbabwe, among other countries.
They include business owners of SMEs, private sector executives, international and African trade experts, AfCFTA Secretariat representatives, regional business councils, academics, research institutions and think tanks, development institutions, financial institutions, African thought leaders and business influencers, and the media.
It said the Secretary-General of the AfCFTA Secretariat would deliver the keynote address coupled by interactive panel discussions, breakout sessions, networking segments, training sessions, and company site visits.
The statement said the 2023 RIIF SME conference would showcase practical ways in which AfCFTA provides opportunities to mobilise resources and stakeholders, build capacity, scale-up businesses, develop inclusivity for intra-African trade, create jobs, expand national economies, and develop a sustainable continental market and ecosystem that effectively meets the needs of African people.
“The conference is in support of the African Unions theme for 2023: Year of AfCFTA: Acceleration of the African Continental Free Trade Area Implementation,” it added.
It said additional RIIF conferences and training initiatives would be planned in other regions of the continent to build the capacity of business leaders to understand the AfCFTA and gain access to intra-African cross-border trade.
The first phase will begin in West Africa, where the Pan African Payment Settlement System (PAPSS) has been piloted to ensure financial ease of doing business across African borders and markets.
“We have been convening the RIIF in partnership with ACBF since 2017 and, this year, GIMPA has joined us in organizing the 2023 RIIF SME conference. The initiative has also attracted strategic support from Afreximbank and the AfCFTA Secretariat,” Professor Lehlohonolo Tlou, Executive Director of CRIA.
She said regional integration and intra-African trade were key strategies for transforming our economies and no single entity can do it all.
“The conference is an important opportunity to join forces in building the capacity of SMEs to engage in intra-African trade and to contribute to the success of the AfCFTA. We believe working together can create a prosperous future for all Africans,” she added.
The Executive Director said AfCFTA provided tremendous opportunities for African SMEs and RIIF 2023 conference was designed to help SMEs understand and leverage these opportunities, and to overcome barriers that they may face.
Mr. M. Mamadou Biteye, Executive Secretary of ACBF said, “Capacity building plays a vital role in addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by the AfCFTA and breaking the business barriers for its acceleration, and this Conference is contributing to such efforts.”
“ACBF recognizes that without the necessary capacities, African countries and businesses, SMEs in particular, may struggle to fully leverage the benefits of AfCFTA,” he added.
The ACBF Strategic Plan 2023-2027 includes Trade as an Engine of Economic Developmentas one of four key impact areas that we will focus our work on over the next five years. “We will provide targeted capacity building support to governments, policymakers, institutions, private sector entities, SMEs and individuals involved in the AfCFTA implementation process,” it added.