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Japan, Africa to promote private sector-led growth, improved security


Leaders and delegates from Africa and Japan agreed Monday that the private sector needs to play a greater role in improving the quality of growth in Africa and that the resource-rich continent will aim to create a resilient and investment-friendly environment by curbing conflicts, terrorism and piracy.

"We will strengthen the economic bases of development through infrastructure and human resources development, economic diversification and promoting broad-based and private sector-led growth," said a declaration adopted at the end of a three-day international conference on African development.

Participants at the summit-level conference, held every five years, adopted the Yokohama Declaration and an action plan for the coming five years following discussions on a wide range of issues including growth, trade, investment, gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in his closing remarks that the end of the fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development is "a new beginning" and that Japan is "willing to move forward with composed and assured steps with Africa."

"Growth lies in Africa. Now is the time to invest," Abe said.

Striking a similar note, his co-chair, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said the continent is "open for business" and added, "Investing in Africa is going to be a very rewarding experience par excellence."

At TICAD, Japan unveiled a series of support measures, including up to 3.2 trillion yen in public and private sector assistance, and said Japan's Self-Defense Forces will help Africa improve the security situation, especially in Somalia and neighboring areas to combat piracy.

Japan is apparently aiming to gain momentum in its drive to catch up with China, the world's second-largest economy, which has greater influence on Africa with its aid, trade and investment.

To try to deepen Japan's ties with African countries, Abe held bilateral talks with around 40 African leaders on the sidelines. On Monday, Abe expressed his willingness to visit the continent.

Still, the Japanese prime minister said Tokyo's stance is to "respect the spirit of self-help and self-reliance in Africa" and to "place priority on developing human resources."

"I believe Japan's policy to create a win-win relationship is valued there," Abe said at a joint press conference with Desalegn and others after the conference came to a close. "It's a situation where more and more private companies will invest and that would translate into investments that induce economic growth."

The Yokohama Declaration 2013 said the parties will build up the economic bases of development -- infrastructure and human resources -- as it will help reduce poverty and turn the continent into "the engine of global growth."

To develop the basic infrastructure, they will focus mainly on three sectors -- energy, transport and water -- through the public-private sector partnership, and create a better investment climate as well as legal and regulatory frameworks.

The parties emphasized the roles that women and young people will play in fostering growth, and said health and education should be improved to that end.

For Japanese companies, security has been one of the main barriers to doing business in Africa particularly after the hostage crisis in Algeria in January which resulted in the deaths of dozens of foreign nationals, including 10 Japanese.

The document says peace and stability are "prerequisites for growth" and that efforts will be made to strengthen "Africa's capacity to create, nurture and protect peace."

The leaders and delegates "strongly" endorsed the declaration of solidarity with Algeria adopted by the African Union in January after the crisis.

Identifying agriculture as one of the key areas to spur growth, the parties said it is "fundamental to sustaining economic growth" due to the potential to create jobs, boost income and improve the livelihood of farmers in Africa.

Africa will aim to achieve 6 percent growth in the agriculture sector and double rice production by 2018 from its 2008 level, according to the action plan.

Amid concern that countries in Africa will not be able to attain the Millennium Development Goals -- a set of U.N. targets to address issues such as poverty, hunger and HIV on a global scale -- the parties will commit to "accelerating efforts" to achieve the targets in Africa by the deadline of 2015, the declaration said.

They will also jointly exercise leadership to establish a framework for post-2015 development that will reflect Africa's "concerns and priorities."

"We resolve to act together to eradicate poverty in all its forms, protecting and empowering individuals, particularly the vulnerable, and creating conditions for economic transformation, peace, prosperity as well as sustainable and inclusive development," the declaration said.

TICAD was co-organized by Japan and international organizations such as the United Nations, the World Bank and for the first time the African Union. The AU will take part in the follow-up mechanism, a framework set up at the previous round of the conference in 2008 to check progress on goals set by TICAD.