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Egypt's Sisi opens Africa economic summit to boost investment

The two-day summit in Sharm al-Sheikh aims to discuss developing trade and investment relations between African countries
Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (L) and Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attend the Africa 2016 forum (AFP)

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi opened on Saturday an economic summit attended by African leaders and businessmen that aims to boost trade and investment across the continent.

"Development, which is the main challenge facing us all, calls for achieving cooperation and integration and the need to implement giant regional projects in several areas," Sisi said at the opening of the summit, "as well as promoting local products to push global markets".

The forum is scheduled to discuss the role of Egypt as a key investor in the development process of the African continent, as well as ways to enhance trade and investment relations between African countries, especially in light of the growing international interest in the African economy after the continent's GDP exceeded $ 2 trillion.

The conference "Africa 2016" plans to build further on a 26-nation free trade pact signed last year to create a common market on half of the continent, organisers said.

More than 1,200 delegates including including the presidents of Sudan, Nigeria, Togo, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea will negotiate business agreements for the next two days at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, to attract private sector investments in Africa.

Leaders and representatives of regional and international development organisations, representatives of the Egyptian business community and the sectors of energy, information technology, trade, agriculture, health and economy in African countries will attend the event.

Analysts say that despite their growth, African economies still account for about only 2 percent of global trade.

The summit "not only aims to present investment opportunities that Africa offers to the international business community... but aims to pave the way for active decisions, communication and cooperation," Sisi said.

Organisers are also seeking to turn the spotlight on Egypt as its economy remains sluggish after years of political turmoil following the ouster of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak in early 2011.

Heavily dependent on tourism, Egypt's economy was dealt a body blow when a Russian airliner broke up mid-air on 31 October, minutes after taking off from Sharm al-Sheikh.

All 224 people on board, mostly Russian tourists, were killed when the plane blew up over the Sinai Peninsula. The Islamic State group said it brought down the jet with a bomb on board.

Egypt says it still has no evidence that a bomb downed the plane, although Moscow has acknowledged that a "terrorist attack" caused the disaster.

"Africa 2016 forum is expected to position Egypt as a gateway for foreign investments into African markets," Omar Ben Yedder, member of the organising committee, told AFP.

"It also aims to discuss ways of promoting trade and investment in Africa, with a focus on private sector participation."

The conference has been organised by Egypt and the African Union, in partnership with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, or COMESA.

Another investment major summit, the Egyptian Economic Development Conference, was due to be held in Sharm al-Sheikh in May but was cancelled due to little interest from investors. This followed through on the World Economic Forum also cancelling its summit in the MENA region, due to fears of instability and concern over the safety of attendees.

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