Jeddah (UNA-OIC) – The International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC), on March 25, organized a virtual roundtable on the second phase of the Aid for Trade Initiative for the Arab States Program (AfTIAS 2.0), under the theme “Contribution to the economic recovery post-COVID-19 through inclusive job creation.
The speakers and contributors at the roundtable highlighted various aspects of AfTIAS 2.0’s expected interventions, namely poverty alleviation, inclusive job creation, enhancing stability in fragile states, and curbing migration.
The roundtable was chaired by ITFC Chief Executive Officer Eng. Hani Salem Sonbol, chairman of the AfTIAS Program Board, and with opening remarks from Deputy Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Frederick Agah Yonov.
The series of discussions and contributions kickstarted with keynote addresses by Dr. Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi, Minister of Trade, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Saudi General Authority of Foreign Trade (GAFT); Dr. Nevin Gamea, Minister of Trade and Industry, Arab Republic of Egypt; and Dr. Mahmoud Mohieldin, Executive Director (Arab Countries), International Monetary Fund (IMF), followed by a brief presentation on the AfTIAS Program by ITFC.
In his opening speech, Al-Qasabi reviewed the role of Saudi Arabia in establishing the Aid for Trade Initiative for Arab States (AfTIAS) in its first phase, reiterating the importance of promoting trade in the Arab world.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is looking forward to optimizing the second phase of the AfTIAS program, with the aim of enhancing the competitiveness of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, to increase the sector’s GDP contribution from 20% to 35% in line with the strategic goal of the Kingdom’s 2030 Vision,” he added.
For her part, Dr. Nevin Gamea announced Egypt’s continuing support for the Program in its second phase, stressing that all efforts will be made to ensure the success of the program in promoting trade in the Arab world, which is still at low levels compared to other regional trading blocs across the globe.
Dr. Mahmoud Mohieldin, Executive Director (Arab Countries), International Monetary Fund (IMF), spoke on how AfTIAS 2.0 could enhance stability in fragile Arab countries. Providing an overview of the economic and market landscape of the Arab region, he emphasized that trade can lead to improving future prospects through food security, employment, domestic revenue and resilience.
Speaking at the roundtable, Ms. Rola Dashti Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) provided an assessment on the impact of COVID-19 on trade globally and in the Arab region, in particular, highlighting the challenges being faced.
Dashti’s address was followed by Dr. Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Executive Director of the International Trade (ITC), who presented on business creation and ways to fast track internationalization for young entrepreneurs in Arab states in a post-COVID context. Ms. Maria Molina, Head of the Department of Cooperation with the Arab World and Asia, Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID)highlighted the need to curb migration through the creation of decent jobs in Arab countries.
Commenting on the importance of the Roundtable, Eng. Hani Salem Sonbol, ITFC CEO, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown more clearly than anything before that today’s global challenges do not stop at borders, and that cooperation is the key to overcoming them. The design of AfTIAS 2.0 as a regional program directly corresponds to this vital need for cooperation”.
The CEO called on donor countries and international development organizations to join AfTIAS 2.0 and contribute to the formidable task of supporting the most vulnerable and fragile countries in the Arab region.
The AfTIAS 2.0 Program was designed by ITFC in 2020 in consultation with beneficiary countries, regional and international organizations, following the successful completion of the 1st phase of the program in 2018. AfTIAS 2.0 puts emphasis on inclusivity. A specific focus of AfTIAS 2.0 is to create jobs for youth and women, thereby alleviating the negative impact of COVID-19 in the Arab region, contributing to stability and mitigating migration challenges. The program will be formally launched in June 2021 and will run for five years.