The Management of Invest in Africa (IIA) is empowering Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) to enable them explore opportunities that come with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement. The AfCFTA becomes operational on June 1st, 2020 and it is expected to create the world’s largest free trade zone with over one billion consumers, a potential $3 trillion economy and zero tariffs on goods traded across countries. Mr Clarence Nartey, the Country Director of IIA, said IIA was investing to adequately prepare its SMEs to harness the market opportunities to be provided by the agreement. He said there was still work to be done to educate and sensitise the private sector on both the opportunities and threats that the agreement comes with and work to develop a competitive AfCFTA strategy. He said from an IIA perspective, the good news was that some of its suppliers ware already engaged in Pan-African trade – equivalent to 15 percent of IIA’s active supplier pool. “However, this is not enough and the organisation is committed to increasing this to 40 percent in a few years,” he added. Mr Nartey said the 40 per cent target would be done through rolling out its AfDB- sponsored flagship Business Linkage Programme. The programme focuses on integrating SMEs into supply chains of multinational companies and large local organisations by improving their competitiveness and building their long-term capacity, across eleven countries. He said they would also leverage on Information Communication Technology in the form of IIAs digital infrastructure, an online marketplace that connects 50 buyers and 5,500 suppliers across Africa. It will accelerate cross-border and regional value chain integration and rapidly scaling up SMEs through its home grown buyer project all of which should position IIA’s SMEs to be regionally competitive. Mr Nartey said the awards scheme honours indigenous businesses, who have demonstrated entrepreneurial excellence and developed the capacity to participate in supply chains of large local and international companies. Mr David Ofosu Dorte, the Executive Chairman of AB & David Africa, said there was the need for SMEs to enhance their competitiveness by upgrading the standards of their products and expanding production capacity in order to maximise the benefits from AfCFTA. He said looking presently at the private sector, they are not prepared to take advantage of the agreement and urged the players to be abreast with the agreement and take advantage of it. “The private sector must take charge and work with government to take full advantage of the agreement,” he added. Mr Dorte said it was encouraging to see the heads of states of the African continent trying to promote and boost intra-African trade among themselves to develop the continent. Mr Sebastian Okeke, the Country Manager of African Development Bank Group (AfDB), expressed the bank’s commitment to continue its partnership with IIA through the Fund for Africa Private Sector Assistance to support the growth of Ghanaian SMEs and promote local content. Mr Okeke said through the partnership, some SMEs in the agricultural, oil and gas, financial services and telecommunication sectors have been supported with access to skills, market and finance. He said the business skills of more than 300 SMEs have also been enhanced and over $2 million worth of credit had been secured for them through IIAs partner banks. The awardees include Young Entrepreneur of the Year- BTL Africa Marketing Limited, Sustainable Business of the Year- Jekora Ventures, Business Transformation- Aidec Holdings Limited, and Business Linkage- Lightingale Limited. Others are, Business Technology Growth- Consolidated Shipping Agencies Limited, Business Innovation of the Year- Agriaccess Ghana Limited, Mentorship Recognition- Agriaccess Ghana Limited and Scale-Up Business of the Year – Western Premium Company Limited. The IIA Star Award for Excellence was awarded to Joissam Ghana Limited.