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Private sector role stressed at Japan-Africa meet

Miki Toda, Associated Press

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, greets delegations from African countries after the closing session of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in Yokohama, near Tokyo Monday, June 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Kimimasa Mayama, Pool)

YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) -- Japanese and African leaders stressed the importance of private sector investment in promoting Africa's economic growth as they wrapped up a development conference Monday held once every five years.

Japan promised 3.2 trillion yen ($32 billion) in government and private-sector aid to the region at the outset of the three-day Tokyo International Conference on African Development. The gathering brought together delegations from 51 African nations as well as representatives from the United Nations and World Bank.

Japan is eager to catch up to rival China, which has invested heavily in the resource-rich continent.

"We hope to further support and continue to expand together with Africa. We hope to develop a win-win situation in our relationship," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a closing news conference in Yokohama.

Calling the private sector "a vital engine of growth," the participants pledged in a final declaration to boost private investment by improving the business climate and legal and regulatory frameworks.

Africa is the least integrated continent in the world with low levels of intra-regional trade, and accounts for only 3 percent of global trade, said an accompanying action plan laying out various targets.

Private capital flows into the continent now exceed official development assistance, but they are still concentrated in extractive industries such as oil and mining and in resource-rich countries, it said. Diversifying foreign investment into areas such as infrastructure, farming, manufacturing and tourism — an area of "tremendous potential" — are challenges for the future, it said.

"We will encourage expanded trade, tourism and technology transfer" and help small and medium-size companies develop by improving their access to long-term financing, the declaration said.

The private sector's growth has facilitated the emergence of a middle class across the continent, an expanding consumer market and the widespread use of cellphones, the action plan said.

Among other measures, Japan will invite a thousand people from Africa to study and work as interns at Japanese companies.

The five-year aid package includes 1.4 trillion yen ($14 billion) in official development assistance and 100 billion yen ($1 billion) in aid for economic development and humanitarian efforts, including help with security and counter-terrorism measures.

Ethiopian leader Hailemariam Desalegn, the chairman of this year's conference, said it was important for the participants to make sure that the conference's recommendations are implemented "to the satisfaction of both sides."

Japan's conference for Africa has been held every five years since 1993.


Malcolm Foster in Tokyo contributed to this report.