In a Capital interview, the Executive Director of the Pan African Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Kebour Ghenna, explains what the objectives of PACCI are and briefly describes the trade priorities of Africa.
Can you briefly tell us what is the Pan African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PACCI), what it does?
The Pan African Chamber of Commerce and Industry is a voluntary organization set up by some 35 national Chambers of commerce and business associations. Its membership base also includes corporations, companies, firms, and organizations in international trade and related business operations. Its main task is to be the number one Africa’s business voice and present the views of its members to relevant intergovernmental institutions. At the same time it also uses its national assets, i.e. the national Chambers of commerce, business associations and corporations to share and lobby continental agendas and issues to their governments and other bodies in their respective countries.
What are the main trade agendas of the PACCI today and how does PACCI intend to implement them?
The number one priority remains the enhancement of the level of intra-African trade from current levels of about ten to twelve percent to 25 percent or more within the next decade, and thereby make intra-African trade an important driver of development and regional integration in Africa as is the case in other regions of the world such as the EU, Latin America and Asia.
Last November, the PACCI Executive Council has adopted the PACCI Strategy 2012 – 2015 and has agreed to focus its efforts on five key areas which will set the course for the next two years, notably, Trade and Development, Non Trade Barriers and Standards, Trade and Environment, Corporate Social Responsibility and Transparency, and Trade Integration and Facilitation.
The PACCI Secretariat is now establishing five Working Groups composed of associations, corporations, companies and firms to focus on the challenges facing trade, and the need to come up with strategies to enhance intra-Africa trade. Each group is expected to provide functional advice on issues and policies affecting the business sector.
And where do you get support and financing for these and other activities?
Financing for our day to day activities has come from members’ contributions. National Chambers have been volunteering to assume some of the direct costs related to the PACCI. Still we need to tap more resources from the private sector by offering services and activities that benefit them. In terms of international support we are developing programs to improve trade and business, and so we hope to access funding as we go along and tackle challenging common issues.
From your perspective, what seems likely to be the most significant new challenges that African businesses will face as they proceed into an uncertain future?
I would say the uncertain trade environment and, in particular, the crisis in Europe and in the US will have a definite impact on our region. In terms of business, the basic challenge of trading, or engaging in any other international business activity, has not changed – simply put trading is about linking products to customers. Where can buyers find the best products for the right price in the world? How can the right products be delivered to customers at the right time and at the right price? What are the best routes through this world? But the paths through this world are affected by the trade environment.
Today what is affecting trade is not just the physical distance, which by the way is monumental in Africa, but rather the regulations instituted in each county and region. These regulations are the one shaping the business terrain. Regulation and trade agreements at times block trade through quotas, safeguards, or other constraints. Regulations and trade arrangements can also create superhighways through preferential bilateral agreements between two countries that facilitate trade. Today in Africa we have a patchwork of shifting multilateral, bilateral, and local regulations. This is a significant challenge for any international business.
Finally, what should African countries do to boost trade in Africa?
We need to capture more trade opportunities, we need to diversify our products. At present, regional economic arrangements display narrow patterns of trade, depend on primary products and involve low levels of inter-country trade. This should change, and change fast. At present most African countries produce and export raw materials, not processed goods, so there is little that they are interested in importing from each other. So there are a lot of opportunities. Africa should place a higher priority on trade with each other.