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Advancing private sector engagement in trade integration in Africa

African nations have stepped up efforts to deepen regional economic and trade integration, including to further the engagement of regional business leaders in the integration process. Private sector engagement is one of the strategic elements of the African Union’s Action Plan for Boosting Intra-African Trade (APBIT), which envisions the formation of a Pan-African Business Council. International experiences in Europe, the Americas, and East Asia can be highly instructive for Africa on ways to structure private sector engagement in the design, implementation, and monitoring of regional integration commitments. 


In 2013, Nextrade Group CEO partnered with the Carana Corporation to prepare an extensive technical discussion paper for the U.S. Agency for International Develpment (USAID) on ways the African Union could best structure a business council to support the AU’s Action Plan. The executive summary follows.

Executive Summary


Private sector engagement is one of the strategic elements of the African Union’s Action Plan for Boosting Intra-African Trade (APBIT). Such engagement is envisioned to take the form of a Pan-African Business Council, purported to accelerate the attainment of the Action Plan’s objectives.


Engaging the private sector in the regional trade integration process is highly positive. After all, it is typically the private sector that has the best information on bottlenecks to trade and practical ideas on ways to deepen trade integration. Public and private sectors are inherent partners in integration – the former creates the environment conducive to trade, the latter does the cross-border trading conducive to economic growth and development. It comes as no surprise that regional trade integration initiatives around the world have elevated the role of the private sector in the recent years.


Private sector engagement in regional integration can take several different forms, and the purpose of this paper is to start laying out some considerations for the AUC as it contemplates the specific structure, tasks, and resources of the Business Council. This paper is based on an analysis of the several distinct models for, and recent trends in, private sector engagement in regional integration schemes around the world, and strives to identify several potential options for the AUC in structuring the Business Council in such areas as:


  • Composition and rotation of participants

  • Mission and issue coverage

  • Organization of work

  • Structuring engagement between public and private sectors

  • Financing of the private sector engagement

  • Monitoring and measuring results.


Drawing on leading international experiences in engaging regional business in trade integration, this discussion paper lays out a set of guiding principles and best international practices that the AUC can consider in setting up the Business Council. Among these are:


  • Maximizing the sense of ownership and information among a diverse set of players

  • Placing emphasis on pragmatic, targeted, and action-oriented engagement

  • Pursuing utmost transparency of parties and process

  • Considering capacity-building to elevate substance and accelerate progress

  • Emphasizing efficiency, a results-based approach, and measurable outcomes.

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