Pamela Coke Hamilton, executive director of the International Trade Centre (ITC), speaks exclusively to African Newspage on the sidelines of the recently held 2022 Africa Industrialization Week (AIW) in Niamey, Niger.
Newspage: You are one of the organizing partners for the 2022 Africa Industrialization Week (AIW). Why are you interested in AIW 2022?
Coke-Hamilton: The International Trade Centre (ITC) has been working across over fifty African countries for many years. We recently redoubled our support for Africa’s economic growth, considering Africa’s strategic importance in global affairs.
We have therefore established many programs across Africa, such as the SheTrades program, which focuses on women; the ecomConnect program, which deals with e-connectivity; and Alliances for Action, our climate-smart agriculture program. To answer your question, our interest in the AIW 2022 is the link between industrialization and trade, based on our recognition of their complementarity and the fact that one does not work without the other.
To this end, we presented three studies in the course of AIW 2022, including the value chain study we carried out in collaboration with the African Union, titled “Made by Africa: Creating Value through Integration,” focusing on 94 high-potential value chains, of which 4 sectors emerge as especially promising in driving the industrialization process and value chain initiatives, including for small businesses, namely pharmaceuticals, infant food, cotton apparel, and automotives.
Second, we launched a private sector mapping of firms and the business ecosystem that supports them, carried out in collaboration with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat. The mapping of the African private sector profiles firms and business support organizations across the continent, analyzing their competitiveness and constraints. This is because without the private sector, the AfCFTA will not work since it is the private sector that trades. In that sense, the first beneficiary of the AfCFTA is the private sector.
Third, we launched a glossary of 100 AfCFTA-related technical terms to help small firms better understand what the agreement means for them. This is because we have discovered that trade stakeholders speak in jargon, which makes it difficult for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to understand these terms. The glossary will help SMEs demystify trade jargon and be able to understand and engage with the AfCFTA process.
Moreover, we are continuing with our African Trade Observatory (ATO) project, which has progressed very well and which we are continuing to expand. We are also working with the AfCFTA Secretariat on the women and youth protocol to ensure inclusion as well as facilitate exports under the AfCFTA. We believe the coming together of the AfCFTA and the AU Industrialization Summit is completing the puzzle on how to boost intra-African trade. The trade and industrialization agendas must be intertwined.
Newspage: Like you have said, one of the ITC’s main areas of focus is women and youth. What are you doing to mainstream them into intra-African trade?
Coke-Hamilton: Women make up at least 50% of the African population, but most of them do not have access to finance, the collateral needed to access finance, as well as knowledge of how they can take advantage of the AfCFTA. Yet they are the backbone of Africa’s economy, so we have to work with them because, without them, the impact of AfCFTA will not reach the nooks and crannies of Africa.
Women’s involvement will bring about greater societal engagement; therefore, we have been working through our SheTrades hubs, the AfCFTA Secretariat, the AU Commission, and Regional Economic Communities (RECs) to ensure that women are integrated into their work. Under the SheTrades process, we train women on accessing finance, understanding trade rules, accessing new markets, and meeting standards, among others.
The SheTrades initiative, which began about ten years ago, works with women through hubs and national offices to strengthen the capacity of Business Support Organizations (BSOs) to assist local businesswomen with capacity building. We have also established a SheTrades-CARE Investment Fund, a revolving fund that allows them access to more concessional financing. Last year, we took 3 million women from around the world to market under SheTrades, the majority of them from Africa.
For the youth, we have implemented several programs and are planning to launch the second phase of our youth entrepreneurship program implemented in The Gambia, which was very successful. It has significantly increased the number of opportunities available to young entrepreneurs. If we don’t promote youth inclusion, all our efforts will be an exercise in futility and we will not be able to address these weaknesses, hence our efforts to empower the youth, who are the leaders of tomorrow.
We also have the One Trade Africa (OTA) initiative, which came about because we realized we had so many touchpoints across Africa, namely regional integration and trade processes, SheTrades, the Alliances for Action on climate-smart agriculture, green energy, and a host of others. We thus sought to create an umbrella program that essentially brings together and links all these various processes.
Consequently, the OTA was designed to become that umbrella program that offers us a centralized way of engaging, not only with Africa but also with our donors, because it makes it easier for them to assess and appreciate the breadth of our engagements and what we bring to the table, as well as the interconnectedness of all our initiatives.
Newspage: At the COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, you spoke on sustainable green industrialization. Tell us more about ITC’s work in that regard.
Coke-Hamilton: We have been doing a lot of work in the area of climate change, having recognized it as our priority. At the COP26 in Glasgow, I realized there were only large corporations, such as Microsoft, but no presence of SMEs. It seemed they didn’t exist, even though they form around 90% of all businesses worldwide and constitute the bulk of emissions along the supply chains of big corporations that produce most goods, including food, electronics and apparel. As a result, we decided to amplify SMEs’ voices at COP27 and become their advocates. We invited five SMEs from around the world to present how they are making the low-carbon transition, and, as a result, reducing costs and becoming more competitive, all while reducing their environmental impact. In short, they are examples of how going green makes business sense.
We know that SMEs want to make the low-carbon transition but lack the resources to do so. Our research found that nearly 70% of African small firms say climate change has a “significant” impact on their business, and that less than 40% can do something about it. So, we are helping them with the technical and financial capability to do it.
We want to emphasize that going green is not a punishment but rather an opportunity, while acknowledging that SMEs need help making that transition because sometimes the upfront cost can be very high. The good news is that more people are beginning to recognize that this is an important part of the dynamic and that when we are talking about access to finance and lowering emissions, we cannot exclude the “silent majority”: the small businesses that form the backbone of Africa’s economies.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity
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