African Ministers of Finance and other leaders have agreed that the continent needs to shift from a reliance on exports of primary commodities to greater industrialization in order to accelerate the continent’s development. 800 ministers, experts and representatives of the United Nations met at the Annual Meeting of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development and Africa Union (AU) Conference of Ministers of Economy and Finance. The conference on ”Industrialization for an Emerging Africa.” opened in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire on 25 March.
The President of Côte d’Ivoire, Alassane Ouattara, who chaired the opening ceremony, said that "political stability, the stability of the macroeconomic framework and infrastructure quality are necessary for the industrialization of African countries." He also noted that his country has chosen to industrialize and diversify its economy.
Africa has experienced remarkable growth in recent years. Conference speakers pointed to the continent’s growth rate of 5% in 2012 compared to 2% for the global economy.
The Chairperson of the African Union Commission Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said, “Industrialization is not a luxury for the region but a necessity,” and pointed out that “in spite of significant progress in some areas, challenges and opportunities remain.”
Some of the challenges include a number of non-tariff barriers to trade. The Executive Secretary of the United Nations ECA, Carlos Lopes also pointed to “the chronic instability that characterizes the African continent in contrast to Asia.” He said, “There is no doubt that Africa requires structural transformation and not structural adjustment. Industrialization is absolutely indispensable to this objective.”
UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibé participated in the conference and he stressed that Africa has a unique opportunity to develop its pharmaceutical industry. Currently Africa is highly dependent on foreign medicines, importing 70% of its drugs. Mr Sidibé said, “Africa must change its approach, its paradigm and production strategy.”
Africa imports 80% of antiretroviral medicines. This heavy reliance on external markets represents a serious health risk to Africa, as evidence suggests that many leading Asian pharmaceutical companies are shifting their focus to the more lucrative markets of the West to be replaced by companies who may not have the same quality credentials. Local production can result in many benefits including: greater product quality assurance, shorter supply chains and fewer stock-outs and the production of drugs for diseases that affect Africa that the rest of the world does not supply.
Mr Sidibé said that to encourage the development of a pharmaceutical industry in Africa the next step was to equip public and private stakeholders with key strategic information to attract funding. A new partnership among the African Union Commission, UNAIDS and other partners is seeking to redress this gap in strategic information through the establishment of the Pharmaceutical Market Data Initiative.
The annual meeting continues until 26 March.