Brussels has seen a lot happening in the recent weeks…From the visit of the U.S. President Barack Obama, followed by that of the President of the People's Republic of China, Xi Jinping, shortly after. And then, there was the opening of the 4th EU-Africa Summit, last week, which brought together more than 60 European and African leaders and a total of 90 delegations.
In the margin of the EU-Africa Summit, more than 500 business leaders from both continents met from 31 March to 1 April for the 5th EU-Africa Business Forum.
The Business Forum was opened jointly by Joseph Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission and Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission. The tone was clearly set on ensuing discussions on how to engage the private sector in inclusive and sustainable growth.
Among the pathways explored, was the use of blending to partner with the private sector. Blending is seen as being an important tool for EU development cooperation in developing countries. Recent experience has shown that initiatives such as the EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund has, at times, secured a leverage factor of almost 12 euro of private financing for every European Investment Bank euro of infrastructure grant financing. Private sector involvement in financing development projects is seen as being instrumental in generating economic growth and new jobs.
The guidelines are currently being worked out at the level of the European Commission with inputs from Member States. This will open the possibility of syndication with other development financing institutions as well as with commercial banks.
Major discussions also focused on the challenges faced by SMEs and the mechanisms that need to be developed to address the financing gap which they face and which, all too often, market forces alone cannot bridge. With 23 million SMEs in the EU providing 85 percent of total employment, the lessons to be drawn are compelling, albeit in a different context.
Some of the recommendations, based on the various round table discussions, included the support of the EU to African countries in putting in place regulatory frameworks to increase private sector investments in the energy sector. But also the unlocking of capital from local pension funds and banks in African states, which keep more than half of their deposits in liquid assets
On a different note, the Business Forum made recommendations on how to support the technological spill-over of space programmes into society and the economy at large and promoting the utilization of space technologies with high socio-economic potential. For example, through the use of satellite data for the development of satellite navigation applications for the transportation domains and earth observation applications for the monitoring of natural resources, energy and agriculture, climate change and mitigation of the impact of disasters.
The main recommendations coming out of the Forum were thereafter presented to the Heads of State, present at the Summit.
The Business Forum lived up to its theme which was 'A Common Future for EU-Africa: Engaging the private sector in sustainable and inclusive growth'.