Importance of private sector’s role featured in Yokohama Declaration

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

The fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development ended Monday with adoption of the Yokohama Declaration, a pledge to promote private sector-led growth in achieving sustainable development.

A five-year action plan for 2013 to 2017 was also adopted at the end of the three-day meeting. It details the processes of achieving goals such as accelerating growth and reducing poverty. The Japanese government and Africa will hold regular meetings to monitor and follow up on the plans.

“Japan will support Africa’s growth. (Japan), as it always has done, will fulfill the promises it makes,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at the closing ceremony.

During a press conference that followed, Abe stressed the importance of Japanese investment in Africa, saying the continent will be the driving force of the global economy by midcentury.

“Growth is in Africa, and now is the time to invest. If we don’t invest there now, then when will we?” he asked.

In response to a question about the rivalry between Japan and China for influence in Africa, Abe stressed that Tokyo’s support has been highly acclaimed because it focuses on direct development of local people.

“Japan wants to provide support centering on human resource development and the independence of African counties. The goal is a win-win relationship,” Abe said.

The Yokohama Declaration promises to promote infrastructure and support human resource development, such as education and job training. It calls for improving legislation and crafting regulations to create a more business-friendly environment for the private sector.

Japanese firms have long been concerned about a thick forest of sometimes vague and contradictory customs regulations. They have also complained about labor laws in some African nations that have strong local labor unions.

On peace and security, the declaration calls for resolving cross-border issues such as terrorism — though without a definition of what that means in practice — as well as piracy and transnational organized crime. Currently, Self-Defense Forces elements are stationed in Djibouti and South Sudan, where an expansion of activities is being considered.

In the agricultural sector, Africa and its international partners will cooperate in technology transfers, long a bone of contention among African nations seeking the most advanced technology from abroad, especially when it comes to preserving produce.

During conference sessions, several participants noted that nearly half of all African agricultural goods fail to reach the marketplace because farmers can’t transport or store their produce before it spoils. There was also a call to improve access to markets to make farming a profitable business.

Creating more jobs to curb the high unemployment rate for youths was also pushed.

Approaches to enhance Africa’s growth include empowering women, improving education, particularly for girls, and creating good governance, including battling corruption.

TICAD V drew participation from 51 out of the 54 African nations, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, as well as senior Japanese political and business leaders from major corporations and small and medium-size enterprises seeking to introduce their technologies, especially in the health, sanitation, agriculture and renewable energy sectors.