In a victory for Africa, the World Export Development Forum (WEDF) has been held for the first time on the continent in Kigali, Rwanda. Led by the International Trade Centre (ITC), the forum placed pushing the boundaries of trade-led development at the heart of its message.

In remarks by ITC executive director, Arancha González, she highlighted the conference’s reflection of the realities of the global trade, and her organisation’s commitment towards pursuing marginalised demographics, like women, and geographies, like Africa, as its policy going forward.

“We have seen the dynamism and synergies of South-South partners at this WEDF, including from China, India, Brazil and Turkey who have been here to talk business and do business with Africa. This reflects the reality of trade today. South-South trade represents a rapidly growing share of global trade,” she noted.

She added that it was the first WEDF in a “landlocked, small economy,” and concluded that she was, “particularly happy to have organised WEDF in Rwanda – a country that has placed trade and support for the private sector at the heart of its development trajectory.”

González continued by noting that 500 million additional jobs would be needed by 2030 through the expanded of the world’s working population, and that, “more and better jobs will mean the difference between a demographic dividend and a social time bomb.”

The conference also saw a vocal private sector on policy issues regarding trade facilitation and the removal of non-tariff barriers, and business leaders called on governments to create conducive business environments and ensure the representation of business in government policy.

However, the unanimous message from business and government leaders attending the three-day event – the largest in the history of the WEDF – was that Africa is open for business.

Rwanda should nurture its niche, President Kagame declares

“This forum has come at a time when we are doubling our efforts to build an export-oriented economy, and we will continue to create a more favourable environment and double our efforts in export promotion,” pledged Francis Gatare, CEO, Rwanda Development Board.

Rwanda has leapt from 54th to 22nd place in just one year in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report.

Meanwhile, at the Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum, which was held in conjunction with WEDF, around 500 business-to-business meetings led to 44 letters of intent for deals worth $5.5m, ranging from Brazilian coffee-sampling tour packages to eco-tourism, fashion and Nollywood.

Gatare added: “Rwanda has a proven track record of economic, social and political inclusion of women and we are cognisant of women’s immense contribution to the transformation of this country, and championing greater regional market integration.”

The Mara Group also encouraged the use of MaraMentor, its free online application for Africans seeking mentors and peer-to-peer networking opportunities across Africa; while KOSGEB of Turkey offered to train African governments free of charge in the development of entrepreneurial incubators; and the Indian government encouraged businesses to use its sponsored training facilities.

Closing the Kigali edition of WEDF, González announced that next year’s event would be held in Qatar, in association with Tasdeer, development agency of the Qatar Development Bank.

In all, more than 1,200 participants registered from 73 countries, while during a coffee-cupping session, around 1,100 cups of coffee from eight countries were served.