The 2018 African Economic Conference (AEC) will feature practical solutions from regional integration experts and the private sector, a senior African Development Bank (AfDB) staff has said, as preparations for the event move into top gear.

The 13th conference of the EAC, will take place in Kigali, Rwanda from December 3–5, 2018, under the theme “Regional and Continental Integration for Africa’s Development.” The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will host the meeting. The EAC is the leading forum for discussing African issues of the day.

“Expectations for the 2018 AEC are high,” organizers – African Development Bank, UNDP and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa – said days ago in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

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“The conference will be less academic, geared towards bringing together regional integration practitioners to provide us with practical solutions especially in the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Private sector representatives will be sharing their experiences as they do business on the continent,” Bank Director for Integration, Moono Mupotola, said.

Despite some progress and strong affirmations of political commitment by African leaders, the path to continental integration has been slow. The main challenges include lack of political will and the absence of resources, as well as technical capacity to facilitate the implementation of commitments made. Mupotola underscored however that important milestones had been achieved in the recent past, including the launch of the African common passport in July 2016 and the commitment by 44 African countries to the launch of the AfCFTA.

This year’s meeting will focus on initiatives for accelerating progress in infrastructure integration, including the removal of barriers for movement of people goods and services across borders. Experts will share views, best practices and lessons for more effective policy and institutional harmonization in the context of the new Africa Continental Free Trade Area. Africa’s Agenda 2063 and the global Agenda 2030 will also be important frameworks for deliberations and actions taken at the conference.

Mupotola also said a new Bank policy that allows regional projects to allocate 10 per cent of total project budget to soft infrastructure interventions was another important step. The Bank is also currently developing a trade and transport facilitation toolkit which should assist task managers in the transport sector to include “soft” components in their project designs.

“There is need to scale up more, in the area of soft infrastructure to enable and facilitate integration in areas such as policy and regulatory harmonization, removal of non-tariff barriers, improvement in logistics between countries and other factors that affect Africa’s competitiveness,” the Director said.

The African Economic Conference is jointly organized by the African Development Bank, the UNDP and the UNECA. The African Development Bank will lead and host the 2019 EAC conference.