Egypt's Prime Minister Atef Ebeid said Africa's debt problem is the biggest challenge facing the continent and is hindering its a socioeconomic development.
"Africa is now more qualified than at ever to take a place on the international economic arena," Ebeid told the inaugural session of the third African trade ministers' meeting in Cairo. (Economy and Foreign Trade Minister Youssef Boutros Ghali delivered the Prime Minister's speech on his behalf.)
"The world has ushered into a new century, having new features; foremost is the technological advancement, and the information and communications technology," he said.
Ebeid called on the Africans to deal with the new reality as a basic and important part in the world after some obligatory conditions pushed some parts on the continent into the margins, away from global political and economic decision-making.
Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, deputy chief of the World Trade Organization for African affairs, the delegations of 40 African states, representative of regional and international organizations, attended the inaugural session.
He urged the major states and international financial corporations to come up with new ideas to solve the African foreign debt problem and ensure the fair implementation of the initiative to alleviate debt burdens over the highly indebted poor countries.
The Prime Minister warned of the solutions proposed to the highly indebted poor African countries because they are not suitable for the conditions of such countries, who cannot shoulder the burden of debts along without support.
"The African states have already made brave and tangible steps to change their image through performing economic reform programs and liberalizing foreign trade, but there are other steps that should be taken to merge into the world economy," Ebeid added.
The draft final statement of the African trade ministers' conference renewed a call for the establishment of a pan-Africa Free Trade zone.
It praised progress made towards setting up two Free Trade zones grouping members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).
The African ministers decided to put off discussion of the new US development law, approved by the congress in 1999, on advice from Libya and Sudan.
The bill grants 40 countries in the south of the African Sahara, privileges in the trade with the US including custom duties exemption, on condition they should improve their political, economic, and social conditions.
The ministers also urged boosting the role of the private sector in African development projects.
They underlined the importance of holding the fourth session of the World Trade Organization before the end of 2001.
The African ministers highlighted the importance of good Preparations for the UN third conference on the least developed countries, due in Brussels in may.
The final statement will be issued Wednesday at the conclusion of the conference's two-day meetings.
The fourth session of the conference will be hosted by Abuja, Nigeria, in December 2001.
Ebeid demanded that the African states concert efforts and coordinate stands, especially at international organizations.
The Prime Minister also stressed the importance of opening new markets and setting up joint ventures in a bid to increase the African share of international trade.
He said boosting inter-African integration has become a must in order to strengthen the economic situation of the continent.
The Prime Minister referred to expectations that the total economic growth rate in Africa will rise to 4.4 percent instead of 2.3 percent in 1999. But he also warned of the decrease seen in the inflow of foreign investments to the continent during the past years.
Ebeid said that African governments are ready to boost group efforts to make a better life for the peoples of the continent and upgrade economic and trade cooperation to meet the ambitions of the peoples. –(Albawaba-MEBG)
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