Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies speaking at the opening of the Japan-Africa Public Private Economic Forum in Sandton.
JAPANESE business executives and more than 700 delegates from across Africa descended on the Sandton Convention Centre yesterday for the launch of the Japan-Africa Public-Private Economic Forum.

In true Japanese style, the programme was punctual, with a well organised array of key government ministers and captains of industry speaking as panellists on issues critical to the continent.

The vision of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for the Forum is to accelerate the promotion of private sector-led economic growth by encouraging networking among Japanese and African companies. The two-day forum is co-hosted by the government of Japan in collaboration with South Africa.

Minister of Trade and Industry from Japan Hiroshige Seko and his SA counterpart, Rob Davies, delivered the opening remarks, and later signed a Memorandum of Understanding.

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered the keynote address at the closing.

Davies said: “We are here to deliberate on how we can collectively address our countries’ challenges to drive growth by leveraging on our resource endowment, diversifying our economies, accelerating infrastructure development, and deepening regional integration."

Davies emphasised that it was imperative that mutually beneficial relations between Japan and South Africa be maintained and that the more than 140 Japanese firms currently doing business in South Africa be increased significantly.

“It is important that we sustain this partnership with Japan to enable us to achieve our industrialisation objectives, most importantly because Japan is a world leader in the field of artificial intelligence and fuel-cell manufacturing, to name a few. We on the other hand possess significant reserves of platinum which is a key catalyst in the manufacturing of fuel cells.”

The forum provided an opportunity for Japanese and African companies, as well as key business and development-related institutions, to highlight their work in Africa. High profile Japanese business executives included the presidents of Toshiba and Yamaha Motor Company. The president and chief executive of Yamaha, Yoshihiro Hidaka, highlighted his company's efforts to bring clean drinking water to about 10 million people on the continent through small water purification equipment.

“This equipment means that many African women don't have to walk to collect water and have the time to make other important contributions,” Hidaka said.

He added that Yamaha had assisted in creating local water committees in villages which were encouraged to sell clean drinking water, or to purchase other important appliances such as fridges, thereby improving the quality of life for local people.

Inputs were also made by the CEO of the DBSA and the president of Business Unity South Africa.

Energy Minister Jeff Radebe was a panellist on the development of infrastructure in Africa. The senior vice-president of the African Development Bank, Charles Boamah, also weighed in on the need for substantial involvement of the private sector in building infrastructure. “The estimated amount of money needed for infrastructure on the continent amounts to US$130bn to $170bn a year,” Boamah said.

The Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, Mitsunari Okamoto, spoke on the new frontiers for business in Africa and the challenges to transform African economies.