Africa to present unified stand on issues at WTO meeting in Kenya

Saturday February 07 2015

Workers at an EPZ textile factory. Africa intends to table outstanding trade issues at the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting to be held in Kenya in 2015. PHOTO | FILE

African countries are working towards a common position on outstanding trade issues ahead of the 10th World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting to be held in Kenya later in the year.

The initiative, aimed at ensuring African countries get a better deal at WTO negotiations, is being spearheaded by Egypt, Kenya, South Africa and Senegal.

At a recent meeting in Cairo, trade ministers from the four countries committed to the development of a work programme by mid-year that would help consolidate the outstanding issues on the Bali agenda.

Trade negotiations at the WTO have moved at a snail’s pace, following disagreements and hardening of positions by member countries on various issues ranging from subsidies, preferential treatment and tariff and non-tariff barriers.

READ: Trade facilitation in WTO’s Bali Package: What’s in it for Africa?

Some of the outstanding issues the ministers are planning to zero in on are those relating to agriculture and development and the cotton trade, viewed as critical to least developed countries.


However, the African ministers said all other issues of concern by other countries also need to be part of the discussions in the December meeting, according to a statement from the World Trade Organisation.

“Ministers called upon all members to show the necessary political commitment to ensure positive and substantive results, including on issues of interest to Africa. Development, after all, remains the key driving force behind the Doha negotiations,” the statement added.

The ministers agreed the Doha Development Agenda remained a critical element in the work of the WTO, adding that multilateral trading system remained an engine for economic growth and development.

“Africa is a key beneficiary of a strong and functioning multi-lateral trading system,” the statement said.

Agriculture-related issues still remain critical for African countries in the Doha Development Agenda. The continent has been fighting for more access for its agricultural products to the global market. The countries have also been pushing for the elimination of trade-distorting domestic support, common in the developed world, in addition to the removal of all forms of export subsidies.

The issue of subsidies on cotton, for example, has remained a thorny one at the negotiations, with African countries accusing their counterparts in the developed world of trying to kill the critical subsector, which millions of farmers depend on for their livelihood.

“The African countries have also been pushing for flexibility to designate a number of products as special products based on certain criteria like food security, livelihood security and rural development,” said agricultural economist George Mwangi.

The other matter that is expected to come up in the next WTO negotiations is the lowering of trade-related transaction costs, which is important for landlocked, developing and least developing countries.

Mr Mwangi said that facilitating transit traffic along with encouraging cross-border trade can result in marked reduction in the landlocked countries’ import costs.

The ministers at the Cairo meeting agreed it was necessary for all WTO members to show flexibility to move the organisation’s work forward.

Roberto Azevedo the WTO director-general, who also attended the meeting, welcomed the dialogue.

Mr Azevedo, the statement said, briefed the ministers on developments in Geneva, including the work to advance all Doha issues as well as implement the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).

The director general also informed them of the work in progress concerning the WTO decision on public stockholding and all other Bali decisions.

TFA is a protocol whose aim is to boost international trade by doing away with barriers that hinder business among countries. Hong Kong became the first WTO member to ratify TFA and deposited its instrument of acceptance with the secretariat on December 8 last year.

However, it could take a long time before the TFA enters into force, since the protocol has to be first ratified by two-thirds of the WTO’s membership. Already, India has voiced its opposition to the protocol.

However, at the Cairo meeting the ministers were optimistic that members will eventually agree on the contentious issues. The ministers resolved also to brief other African countries on the Cairo meeting and encourage engagement among states on the important issues.

The African ministers assured the Kenya government that they were determined to make the 10th WTO Ministerial Conference, the first to be held on the African continent, a success by delivering positive outcomes for Africa.