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Blue Futures: Integrating Blue Economy Trade into Development for African SIDS and Coastal Nations

The UNDP, alongside São Tomé and Príncipe’s Ministry of Economy and the African Union Commission (AUC), hosted a notable side event at the WTO’s 9th Global Review of Aid for Trade in Geneva. Titled “Blue Futures: Integrating Blue Economy Trade into National Development Strategies for African Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Coastal Nations,” this session focused on the transformative potential of the blue economy within the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

The session called for increased support for sustainable marine resources initiatives in Africa, from Aid for Trade donors and partners. It showcased São Tomé and Príncipe’s efforts national plan to harness the potential of the blue economy, featured the UNDP-AUC regional joint program on blue economy and included speakers from the United Nations Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Ocean Assets and the African Development Bank. Key takeaways from the session include:

Unlocking the Blue economy: Africa’s Sustainable Growth Pathway

Africa’s blue economy is a powerful engine for sustainable growth, generating USD 296 billion and supporting 49 million jobs in 2019. Projections suggest these figures could soar to USD 576 billion and 78 million jobs by 2063. Strategic alliances and innovative investments are viewed as the keys to unlocking this potential.

Ahunna Eziakonwa, UNDP Africa Bureau’s Regional Director, emphasized the crucial role of vibrant trade in economic development. The AfCFTA, by increasing intra-African trade, expanding market access, and encouraging regional integration, is a game-changer. “Harnessing its full potential depends on ensuring that benefits are widely shared, and ocean ecosystems are sustainably managed, with good governance playing a crucial role,” Eziakonwa noted.

To boost private investment in Africa’s blue economy, innovative financial tools such as Blended Finance, which combines public and private funding, are essential. Catalytic funding involves philanthropic or Development Finance Institutions mitigating risk to attract private capital. National public policy tools, such as tax credits and subsidies, can also make “blue” sectors more appealing to private investors. “Private investors prefer stable and predictable activities. Regulatory and macroeconomic stability, along with ease of doing business, are crucial,” said Joan Fulton, Senior Advisor at Ocean Assets.

Sustaining Our Oceans: Environmental Stewardship and Resilience

Effective marine resource management is vital for sustainability and resilience. São Tomé and Príncipe’s National Strategy for the Transition to the Blue Economy (ENTEA) and regional initiatives to curb illegal fishing, reduce pollution and preserve marine and coastal biodiversity underscore the importance of environmental sustainability.

Carlos Quaresma Batista De Sousa, Director of Blue Economy at São Tomé and Príncipe’s Ministry of Economy, highlighted the country’s ambitious goals. By 2030, São Tomé and Príncipe aims to become a global reference for biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. Through sustained infrastructure development and a holistic blue economy strategy, the country seeks to transform into a hub for maritime services and responsible tourism, while also strengthening agriculture capacities and climate change resilience.

Inclusive Growth: Empowering Communities through Regional Cooperation

From left to right, Usman Iftikhar (UNDP), Agi Veres (UNDP), Joan Fulton (Ocean Assets), Carlos De Sousa (Ministry of Economy, São Tomé and Príncipe) and Maxime Weigert (The African Development Bank Group).

Ensuring the blue economy benefits all segments of society, especially Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME), marginalized groups, women and youth is essential for inclusive development. “In African SIDS such as Cabo Verde, for instance, UNCTAD will be instrumental in fostering viable value and supply chains within and across industries by providing technical support to increase SMEs’ access to markets.” said Habiba Ben Barka, Chief of Africa Section, Policy Analysis and Research Branch of the Africa, Least Developed Countries and Special Programmes Division at UNCTAD. She also mentioned the importance of facilitating investment in key enablers such as renewable energy and digital infrastructure, which can help unlock growth and employment opportunities in the blue economy in Africa.

The AfCFTA enhances intra-African trade and regional integration. UNDP Africa estimates that investments in education, capacity building, and infrastructure for small-scale fisheries could create 100,000 jobs, benefiting marginalized groups, with 50% of opportunities directed towards women and 60% towards youth.

The UNDP and AUC have developed a joint program to support the blue economy, aligned with the Africa Regional Blue Economy Strategy. The Blue Economy Reference Group (BERG) exemplifies this effort, serving as a platform for stakeholders to reflect, plan, implement, and monitor blue sector development. Usman Iftikhar, Policy Specialist at UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa, highlighted BERG’s aim to “build bridges between Member States’ and Regional Economic Communities’ demands with partners’ interventions and private sector opportunities.” He invited new partners to join the group, including the WTO, UNCTAD, and the African Development Bank.

The “Blue Futures” event at the WTO’s 9th Global Review underscored the immense potential of the blue economy to drive sustainable growth and inclusive development in African SIDS and coastal nations. By leveraging strategic alliances, innovative investments, and effective marine resource management, African countries can harness the full potential of the blue economy for a prosperous future.
Source: UNDP

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