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Consolidating the regional integration and forming a business arbitration center were the main focus points at the IGAD Business Forum (IBF) that was held from February 14-15 in Djibouti. Business integration between the seven IGAD member countries as well as the need to recognize the role of the private sector in the integration process was also heavily emphasized.
“It is difficult to trade when lacking modern and diversified infrastructure; there needs to be a considerable effort to make that happen. Djibouti has shown efforts that need to be better promoted but also weaknesses and constraints that need to be overcome, such as infrastructure. Regional integration is one of the solutions,” said Youssouf Moussa Dawaleh, President of Djibouti’s Chamber of Commerce.
Representatives of the chamber of commerce from the IGAD countries were present at the forum that was co-organized by the Djibouti Chamber of Commerce.
EU Ambassador to Djibouti Joseph Silva who spoke during the opening session of the forum said that economic integration in the European Union was also a hard way to come but now the region guaranties the free movement of goods, services and people.
“I speak of the EU’s case to highlight the constraints Africa would face and the solutions when there is integration. The European Union wants to share experiences in the area of integration, cooperation, as well as commercial cooperation,” Silva stated. He further stated that the European Union is happy to see the initiative to establish a free movement area by 2017 that will cover 27 countries.
According to Djibouti’s Finance Minister Elias Moussa, intra-regional trade in the IGAD region is weak when it is compared to other regionally integrated communities. “Governments from IGAD member states are trying to put the issue of regional integration on their agenda and they need to work proactively in order to let the private sector flourish as the sector is imperative for integration,” he noted. He also said Djibouti has undertaken an ambitious transformation plan and regional integration is one of the five pillars of the plan.
“Regional integration will allow us to facilitate the interconnectedness of all infrastructures such as telecommunication, energy and roads between Ethiopia and Djibouti. But these infrastructures need to expand to other IGAD countries. Africa is poor because it is poorly integrated,” the Finance Minister commented.
Prime Minister of Djibouti Abdoulkader Kamil Mohamed said that, beyond promoting economic activities of the region, the IGAD Business Forum is also very important to enhance cohesion among IGAD countries.
“This will not only benefit the IGAD but also all the COMESA countries. IGAD is very important to enhance peace in East Africa and we have to use all the means to reach our objective of peace and prosperity. Regional trade is one of the major ways for our countries to work together and help us acquire mutual understanding between us,” the Prime Minister stated in his official opening speech.
After profound discussions, IGAD member states had agreed on a resolution that accentuates the forum’s autonomy. During the next two years, the member countries agreed to lobby as much as possible for IGAD Business Forum to become a statutory organ recognized by Heads of States of member countries.
In those two years, a draft resolution calling for an official recognition of the Forum as a statutory organ will be drawn. A committee of representatives from each IGAD Business Forum member states will also be formed which will steer the organ’s operations.
Some member state’s chambers of commerce such as from Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Djibouti’s Chamber of Commerce to further strengthen their ties.
Arbitration center by March 2016
The Business International Arbitration Center that is to be established in Djibouti is set to go operational by March 2016. The center which will be the first on the continent is expected to secure more foreign direct investment into the region.
“We have seen that investments are starting to come to Africa and it is flowing to the continent from everywhere. Currently, more and more foreign investors are asking for the existence of an arbitrary body. In the world of international trade, arbitration has become a very important subject,” stated Jean-Yves Gontier, a professor of Law at Sciences Po University in Paris, France and who is also part of the team that works to establish the arbitration center.
Gontier further stated that the arbitration center would be useful to privately solve issues, and compared to legal proceedings, it is a much faster process. He also said that economic operators are absolutely free to choose to use the arbitration center or a legal proceeding; the center provides something that is lacking in African business platform – flexibility.
“We can make the center operational by March 2016. We already slated a place in Djibouti; we will have the financing from the World Bank, the European Union and other donors. The center will have a team of experts of both international origins and IGAD countries. It will have lawyers and the best international arbitration experts such as George Bermann, Law Professor at Columbia University who is one of the prominent figures in international arbitration,” Gontier stated.
Commenting on the establishment of the arbitration center, Djiboutian Finance Minster Elias Moussa also said that it will most certainly increase foreign investment to the region. “We will be able to attract investors by assuring them that we will be establishing the center. The region is sending a strong message to the rest of the world that East Africa has matured towards international law and politics,” the prime minister said.
The Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Association also had stated that the arbitration center is a project Ethiopia is supporting as it will undoubtedly increase the already growing foreign direct investment.
The practice of international arbitration has been developed in order to allow parties from different legal and cultural backgrounds to resolve their disputes, generally without the formalities of their respective legal systems