Sierra Leone’s Minister of Trade and Industry, Mr Alpha Ibrahim Sesay recently concluded the 10th Ministerial Meeting of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) in Vienna, Austria on 24th November, 2023. The Trade and Industry Ministry delegation met with the Director General of United Nations Industrial Organisation (UNIDO) Mr Gerd Muller, during which the Director reassured Sierra Leone of UNIDO’s support to the country.
Welcoming the Minister Mr Alpha Ibrahim Sesay, Mr Muller stressed UNIDO’s support for Sierra Leone’s Economic and Industrial Development Agenda. In expressing his delight and appreciation for the meeting, Mr Muller recalled, in his position as Minister of Economic Development of Germany, past cooperation with the government of Sierra Leone. Mr Muller highlighted overseeing government- funded projects including waste management and child mortality. During the bilateral talks, the Director General stressed the need for strong, sustainable and viable waste management services and the reduction of child mortality rates as some of the central areas for UNIDO’s drive in the industrial development agenda.
In his response, Mr Sesay reiterated that agriculture was central in the Sierra Leone government’s agenda for industrial development. Mr Sesay expressed profound thanks and appreciation for the partnership and support for the $ 8.9 million SAP project. He thanked the Director General for approving support for the Integrated Agro-food Parks. He said that these form one of the significant foundations of President Bio’s “Feed Salone” Agenda as a priority. The Minister further stated in recognition of sustainability, that promotion of Climate Adaptation Technology and Business Model Innovations and Entrepreneurship in Sierra Leone should be a focal point in President Bio’s “Feed Salone” agenda.
During the talks, Mr Sesay expressed his passion for the government’s vision about “Made in Sierra Leone”. In his speech, Mr Sesay acknowledged the highly competitive nature of international trade corridors, where local products compete with highly sophisticated products. However, he expressed his confidence that with the support of UNIDO, this will place the country on a higher pedestal for added value, processing and manufacturing of “made in Sierra Leone” products. He hoped that this will not only help in Sierra Leone’s ability to achieve self-sufficiency but also an overall economic growth. To achieve this, the Minister stressed that this will be predicated on a very effective and efficient standards bureau that meets minimum international threshold. The Minister of Trade and Industry therefore, called on the continued support of UNIDO to upgrade the testing laboratory as well as training of technicians and managers to enhance the capacity and capability of the Bureau.
Furthermore, the Minister informed that the Sierra Leone government has already identified 5 key zones for the establishment of medium scale integrated rice processing plants. He noted the importance of rice production, the staple food of the nation. He mentioned that this will not only reduce the economic burden on importation, but also contribute to the employment potential of the industry. He called on continued support from UNIDO in the acquisition and establishment of these mills, which would be operated and managed on a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model. He said that this would guarantee longevity and profitability.
In response, the Director General Mr Muller congratulated the Minister, Mr Alpha Ibrahim Sesay on the laudable strides taken to place the Ministry of Trade and Industry at the heart of President Bio’s wider economic agenda. He further expressed his satisfaction and assured the minister of UNIDO’s total support in achieving the Ministry of Trade and Industry development goals, in line with the Industrial Developmental Agenda.
As part of the development drive, Mr Muller encouraged the government to maximise the potential of the country’s resources. He expressed curiosity about how mining companies operate in Sierra Leone and Africa at large. He stressed the importance of good taxation systems and the legal tax obligations of companies to their respective governments. He further emphasised that revenue from taxes as key sources of revenue for governments is a pivotal cog in the government’s economic machinery. He therefore encouraged governments to have robust, fair and competitive tax systems to encourage and foster competitive and viable avenues for further investments, which is necessary to promote the Industrial Development Agenda.
On the other hand, Mr Muller urged mining companies to meet their tax obligations so that such resources can be fully utilised to cater for the socio-economic needs of the people, and by extension contribute to the government’s poverty reduction agenda. Director General Mr Muller encouraged the government of Sierra Leone to join the LDS in UNIDO’s initiative to form an alliance that will establish a common standards in the mining industry and its associated sectors to protect and benefit the people of Sierra Leone.
In concluding the meeting, the Minister of Trade and Industry, Mr Alpha Ibrahim Sesay, on behalf of His Excellency Brig (rtd) Julius Maada Bio, reassured Mr Muller of Sierra Leone’s continued commitment and support to the UNIDO. He also extended an invitation on behalf of the President, the government and the Ministry of Trade and Industry to visit Sierra Leone as a demonstration of commitment to the Industrial Development Agenda.
In a separate engagement of the 10th Ministerial Conference of the Least Development Countries (LDC) on the same day, The Minister of Trade and Industry Mr Alpha Ibrahim Sesay highlighted in his keynote address the global changes and challenges facing countries across the world. He also acknowledged that these changes and challenges could be more acute for LDCs. He therefore gave a 7 point marker for the Industrial Development Agenda for consideration:
- Mr Sesay called for the rebranding of trade rules that would guarantee access to markets and the global economy. He stressed that such rebranding and access are some of the necessary tools required to assist developing countries and LDCs. He pointed out that this would help in developing capacity and capability to contain, prevent and respond to recovery from acute shocks and more chronic crises in a changing world.
- He called for LDCs to be given space to formulate their own development and industrial agendas/objectives that would change the structure of their economies and further reindustrialise in strategic sectors.
- Mr Sesay noted the breakaway from the mismatch and imbalance that do not contribute to LDCs’ economies. He said for example, that any major investment in diversifying LDCs’ economies in value addition, Agro-processing and manufacturing must be contextual and must reflect the aspirations of the people.
- He called for LDCs to be provided with the necessary support that will make them participate and compete in a multilateral trade system. He identified the multi trade system as a key driver for transformational sustainable industrialisation. He said that such an atmosphere and environment of fairness where LDCs can champion their aspirations in a transparent and viable manner would be crucially beneficial.
- Collaboration between regional groups/organisations and civil society organisations to mount pressures on the developed economies to change some of their policies that create imbalances and unfairness in trade.
- The need for a joint collaboration between and among regional bodies so as to enhance the bargaining power of LDCs
- Another round of debt relief/cancellation for LDCs as the present ratio of debt servicing regime of LDCs surpasses their actual spends in areas like health, education and other related social needs of the people.
Mr Sesay joined other colleague Ministers on Saturday, 25th November 2023 to adopt the Ministerial Declaration- Fair Globalisation: Innovative Solutions for LDCs’ Industrialisation and Structural Transformation. Mr Sesay hopes that the aspirations expressed and considered during the meeting will yield tangible results that will benefit and make significant changes in the lives of all Sierra Leoneans.