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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a special session on Somalia ahead of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in Yokohama/XINHUA

Kenya

Africa, Japan underline private sector role

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a special session on Somalia ahead of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in Yokohama/XINHUA

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a special session on Somalia ahead of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in Yokohama/XINHUA

YOKOHAMA, Japan, June 3 – The private sector has a vital role to play in African development, international leaders said in Tokyo Monday on the final day of a three-day meeting hosted by Japan.

The Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) wrapped up after sessions that focused on governance and security but also included a pledge of 1.4 trillion yen ($14 billion) aid from Japan.

The cash, half of which was to be dedicated to spending on much-needed infrastructure projects, is part of 3.2 trillion yen that Japan’s public and private sectors will invest in Africa over the next five years.

“Affirming that the private sector is a vital engine of growth, we will support and strengthen the private sector, promote greater private investment, and improve the investment climate and legal and regulatory frameworks,” a statement agreed by the leaders said.

The so-called Yokohama Declaration also stressed the need to “improve the investment climate and legal and regulatory frameworks,” reflecting requests by Japanese businesses.

Japanese officials have stressed the need to transform Japan’s relationship with Africa from one of donor-recipient to that of business partnership, as Tokyo’s firms seek to expand their share of a potentially huge market.

“We will encourage expanded trade, tourism and technology transfer, and assist the development” of small and midsize local companies, the statement said.

“We will also support regional integration to expand intra-regional trade and create new opportunities for private sector development and employment,” it said.

The five-yearly TICAD is part of efforts by Japan to engage Africa through aid and business ties. Privately officials have said China’s growing presence in resource-rich Africa is something Japan needs to counter.

Despite relatively long-standing connections, Japan’s importance to Africa has slipped behind that of China, whose more aggressive approach has given it five times the trading volume and eight times the direct investment.

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Beijing is criticised in some corners for what is sometimes seen as prosecuting little more than a resources grab and for not linking investment with demands for improved human rights or more transparent governance in recipient countries.

Participants at the conference — co-hosted by the African Union, the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme — said they wanted to improve agricultural production to address food security and improve quality of life for farmers, who constitute a large part of Africa’s economy.

An “action plan” adopted Monday set goals of boosting growth in the agriculture sector by six percent and doubling rice production by 2018 compared against 2008 levels.

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