Under the umbrella of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (“OIC”), the Islamic Centre for the Development of Trade (“ICDT”) and the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (“BADEA”) hosted a high-level dialogue, “The Arab-African Virtual Business Forum on Products of Food and Agricultural Industries” from 6th to 8th July 2021.
The Forum was inaugurated with keynote speeches from H.E. Dr. Ahmed Sengendo, Assistant Secretary General for Economic Affairs of the OIC; H.E. Dr. Gabriel Ibrahim Mohamed, Minister of Finance and Economic Planning of the Republic of Sudan; H.E. Mr. Souleymane Diarassouba, Minister of Trade and Industry of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire; H.E. Dr Fahad Aldossari, Chairman of the Board of the BADEA, and H.E. Mrs. Latifa Elbouabdellaoui, Director General of ICDT.
International Islamic Food Processing Association (“IFPA”) was invited to participate while its parent body the Islamic Organization for Food Security (“IOFS”) was one of the key partners of the Forum. The Director General and CEO of IFPA, H.E. Sheikh Bilal Khan presented in the key panel session entitled, “Obstacles to Trade Development of the Agri-Food Products” along with other notable speakers such as the Secretary General of the Standards and Metrology Institute for Islamic Countries (“SMIIC”), H.E. Ihsan Ovut; the Global Lead Food Security Specialist of the Islamic Development Bank (“IsDB”), Mr. Ougfaly Badji; the Director of International Relations of Islamic Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (“ICCIA”), Ms. Aalia Jaffer; the Agricultural Economist of Arab Organization for Agricultural Development (“AOAD”), Mr. Salah Mohamed Elawad Salih; and the Director of Risk Evaluation and Legal Affairs at ONSSA of Morocco, Mr. Hamid Lachhab.
H.E. Sheikh Bilal Khan provided an overview of the key value proposition of IFPA and the strategic opportunities for the OIC institutions for collaboration. During his speech, he remarked that “virtual business forums have become the foremost platforms in driving business, trade and investment between OIC Member States, with important initiatives that strengthen growth and prosperity in the agri-food sector. IFPA is very keen to provide special services to facilitate financial and technical support for trade and investment-related activities aimed at promoting intra-OIC trade through specific interventions and dedicated Islamic trade finance and investment components.”
H.E. Sheikh Bilal Khan shared poignant recommendations as outcomes of the panel session by stating that “IFPA recommends to work very closely with all relevant OIC institutions for development of intra-OIC agri-food trade and investment especially for IFPA to:
- strengthen public-private partnerships in agri-food sectors in OIC countries;
- utilise all trade corridors, free trade agreements and bilateral/multilateral treatises;
- closely cooperate with IsDB Group entities (ICIEC/ITFC/ICD) for cohesive and synergetic partnerships;
- join ICCIA’s mega agri-based forums, jointly create new agricultural commodities exchange markets and participate in Green Waqf initiatives and;
- through IOFS to join hands with IsDB Group to deal with the wider issues of food insecurity and robust governance framework”.
Given the current context of the Covid-19 pandemic which has caused the cancellation of exhibitions dedicated to the agri-food sector, this high-level dialogue has allowed everyone to focus on boosting cooperation as well as technical and financial assistance to promote trade and investment among the OIC Member States.
On the occasion of this Forum there were bilateral B2B meetings, an exhibition of participating companies, 15 scientific sessions with integrated 49 speakers and almost 600 exhibitors across the OIC countries. The Forum showcased a potential opportunity to promote the participants’ products and services, establish commercial relations and partnerships and explore investment opportunities. Projects and activities involving the growth of trade-related investment together with knowledge transfer and technology transfer were explored with the aim of growing the combined member base.
By way of examples, some key export opportunities in food sectors of Arab-African countries were particularly discussed by Mr. Hassan Sentissi ElIdrissi, President of Moroccan Federation of Fisheries Companies (FENIP); Mrs. Maimouna Diori, Director General of Niger Sahel Dairy Company; Mrs. Olga Yenou, Director General of TAFISA; Mrs. Fatou Cissoko, Director General of Fatou and Kadija SARL; and Mr. Guido Firetti, CEO of Demeter Agricultural Services and Management.
Key outcomes from this Forum noted importance of mobilizing and allocating resources to impactful investments in OIC countries, including recovery packages to overcome the adverse impacts of COVID-19. The Forum also addressed the key challenges limiting the business community and urged trade and investment authorities of the countries to nurture an environment where the parties can benefit from the opportunities that exist.