African, Caribbean nations mull joint free trade zone
The Nation | 2nd November 2023
By The Nation
Public and private sectors’ leaders in African and Caribbean nations have called for increased trade and investments among the nations, with a vision to create an African Caribbean free trade zone.
This was part of the highlights of the two-day, 2nd AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum (ACTIF23), held in Georgetown, Guyana. The theme of the conference was ‘Creating a Shared Prosperous Future’.
Permanent Secretary of Guyana’s Foreign Ministry, Elizabeth Harper who read the group’s resolution, highlighted an ardent call to global bodies like the African Union, CARICOM, and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States to fortify African-Caribbean political relationships to propel economic alliances, bilateral trade, and the pivotal concept of establishing an African Caribbean free trade zone.
The forum echoed a unanimous voice for fostering partnerships with stalwarts like the African Business Council, the CARICOM private sector, and the International Trade Centre. Their combined vision is the operationalization of the African Caribbean Business Council, designed as a nucleus for private sector amalgamation.
Over the span of ACTIF23, the dedication to mutual growth was evident. African and Caribbean governments and their business counterparts inked several groundbreaking agreements. These spanned diverse sectors: from energy and tourism to logistics, construction, agriculture, sports and the burgeoning creative industries.
Reflecting on the forum’s culmination, Guyana’s Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh said hosting ACTIF23 has been monumental for Guyana as the event has been a catalyst in reinforcing the ties between the regions and shedding light on the myriad of challenges they collectively aim to overcome.
President, African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), Prof. Benedict Oramah underlined the pressing need for genuine integration noting that collaborative endeavours signal a future where the nations can overcome regional challenges through reinforced south-south cooperation.
“The horizon seems promising, with a unified payment system bridging Africa and the Caribbean becoming an imminent reality,” Oramah said.
Tracing back to its inception, ACTIF23 follows the foundational forum in Bridgetown, Barbados. That maiden edition witnessed a game-changing partnership between Afreximbank and CARICOM. This alliance was crafted to amplify trade and investment synergies, anchored by mutual support and financial facilitation.
With its rich tapestry of delegates—approximately 1400 from 33 African nations, 13 Caribbean territories, and 18 countries beyond – ACTIF23, co-hosted by the Government of Guyana and Afreximbank, has stamped its significance in the annals of global trade dialogues.
Meanwhile, Afreximbank has entered into an agreement to provide a $30-million term loan facility to the Bahamas Development Bank (BDB) to bolster its trade finance operations and provide essential support to indigenous business organizations in The Bahamas.
The facility to support the recapitalization of BDB was signed by Kanayo Awani, Executive Vice President, Intra-African Trade Bank, Afreximbank, and Nicholas Higgs, Managing Director of BDB. The signing took place on the sidelines of the final day of ACTIF2023. The loan facility will be in place for seven years.
Awani said that the facility to BDB was aligned with the bank’s commitment to support the economic development of Africa and its Diaspora.
“By recapitalizing the Bahamas Development Bank and focusing on trade finance and SME support, we’re not just investing in financial resources, but in the prosperity, resilience and growth of the nation of The Bahamas,” Awani said.
She said the initiative underscores Afreximbank’s commitment to empowering businesses, stimulating trade and driving economic sustainability in The Bahamas.
Awani emphasized the importance of BDB in facilitating trade finance activities, which are crucial for both domestic and international trade.
She added that the facility would enhance trade and commerce, ultimately leading to economic prosperity in The Bahamas, and described the recapitalization as a pivotal step in ensuring that BDB remained a robust and effective financial institution.
Higgs said the signing of the term sheet represented the realisation of a vision set forth by Prime Minister of The Bahamas, Philip Davis, with support from Bahamas Development Bank Chairman, Senator Quinton Lightbourne.
Higgs said the loan underscored the administration’s steadfast commitment to building meaningful international partnerships and driving micro, small, and medium-sized enterprise development across all islands of The Bahamas.
“We appreciate that Afreximbank aligns with our mandate as a national development bank, and we extend our sincere thanks for their support, which will be reflected through various industries on multiple islands for the benefit of all Bahamians,” Higgs said.
Under the terms of the loan contract, which will be finalized with the Bahamian Ministry of Finance, BDB will direct the facility toward providing improved access to trade finance solutions to Bahamian businesses exporting to, or importing from, other Caribbean countries.
By directing financial resources toward indigenous corporates in such key sectors as tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, and services, the facility would stimulate entrepreneurship, create employment opportunities, and foster innovation.