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Antananarivo, Thursday October, 13, 2016: The COMESA Business Council (CBC) in partnership with the Federation of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Madagascar (FCCIM) has convened a two-day Business Partnerships Forum in Antananarivo, with a call for increased local sourcing to grow the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

The Business Forum is focusing on strengthening business linkages and intra-regional trade in the COMESA-EAC-SADC tripartite region. The objective is to provide an opportunity for increased partnerships within the agroindustry sector for long term sustainable development.

For the past one year, the CBC has been running the Local Sourcing Project for Partnerships which specifically focused on training SME agro food suppliers. This is mainly on compliance to food safety and quality management standards and linking them to markets through facilitating competitive relationships between buyers and suppliers into the purchasing systems of a target of large corporate companies.

CBC Chairperson Dr Amany Asfaw said the region needs to encourage local sourcing as a way of transforming the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) so that they can effectively participate in trade and regional integration. She was speaking during the opening ceremony of the forum, Wednesday 12 October 2016.

“I am excited to state, in this pilot phase that CBC has successfully trained more than 400 SMEs; 80 agro-food suppliers in Zambia, 97 in Rwanda and 122 in Kenya, 67 in Uganda, 60 in Malawi and in Ethiopia 56. As we upscale the Project to Madagascar, Tanzania, South Africa in the next phase looking into the Tripartite FTA market,” Dr Asfaw said.

Hosted under the theme “QUALITY AFRICA- Sampling the Tripartite Market.”, the forum has attracted Regional and International Businesses, Tripartite Countries and the Global community.

Madagascar’s Minister of Industry and Private Sector Honourable Nourdine Chabani said his government is committed to the various policies and programmes that will improve the agro based industries and open up market opportunities for the business community.

“Indeed, it is through partnerships and linkages that such goals can be achieved. It is through dialogue and engagement that we can address some of the barriers to trade and improve the business environment in our region,” Minister Chabani added.

COMESA Assistant Secretary General for Programmes Ambassador Dr Kipyego Cheluget urged the region to promote and support the small industries in order to change the current trade deficit in agriculture which currently stands at US$ 29 billion, 90 percent of this being imports from outside the region.

“I would like to implore the governments to also consider local sourcing as part of their procurement regulations. If we cannot buy from our own, who will? This is the direction we should be taking to advance our industrialization goals and promote local production in our continent,”

The forum is supported by the Investment Climate Facility for Africa, USAID and the African Development Bank – Tripartite Capacity Building Programme. It is taking place in the margins of the COMESA policy organs meeting ahead of the 19th Heads of State Summit.

The outcomes of this meeting will be streamlined into an advocacy Declaration for the Heads of State Summit.