WTO outcomes must support Africa’s trade priorities-AU trade ministers

Last week,about 30 trade ministers and other officials from across Africa convened in Egyptian capital, Cairo to deliberate mainly on critical aspects that will advance Africa’s trade priorities.

From the onset, the talks were largely about taking further the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the African Union flagship project that seeks to liberalise trade in goods and services.

Albert Muchanga, the Commissioner for Trade and Industry at the African Union Commission, told the ministers that countries were on course to make AfCFTA work through their commitments.

So far, the Commission have received nine deposits of the instruments of ratification of the agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area. These are Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda, Niger, eswatini, Chad, Guinea, Uganda, and Cote d’Ivoire.

According to him, the national assemblies of South Africa, Mali, Sierra Leone and Namibia have also approved ratifications and some of the governments of these member states will deposit instruments of ratification during the February 2019 assembly of the African Union Heads of State and Government.

This makes thirteen ratifications with nine remaining to get the 22nd instrument of ratification that will facilitate entry into force of the agreement.

The Trade Commissioner indicated that twelve member states have their ratification processes in their respective national assemblies and that all were at advanced stages of obtaining parliamentary approvals.

“From this, it is clear that the mood to create and operate one African market is positive,” Muchanga noted.

This update presented during the trade ministers conference outlines the kind of commitments that African countries are making toward creating a much anticipated single market for African goods and services.

As this is happening, other members are proposing reforms at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), a platform where most of the drivers of global trade is discussed.

Arguably, discussiond at WTO determines the future of global trade.

However, African countries have hardly participated in this process. Most reforms at WTO are being pushed by developed countries.

Last week, on behalf of the African Group, South African envoy to WTO, Xavier Carim, told this paper that they had seen a set of separate proposals from European Union (EU), Canada and a group of other countries, as well as US, Japan and EU.

The proposed reforms seek to modernize the organization, review the special treatments given to developing countries through the WTO setting and change the dispute settlement mechanism of the organization.

These proposals were, however, making it hard for Africa and other developing countries to advance.

A confidential report shared to the trade ministers by the coordinating member of the African Group last week and accessed by Business Times says that the proposed reforms do not appear balanced.

“It appears that the ideas for WTO modernisation are essentially designed to advance a set of proposals that reflect the particular interests of some members,” the document reads.

The document highlights that the proposals are likely to further polarise the WTO membership.

It recommends that, “Africa’s defining trade policy objective is the AfCFTA and WTO outcomes must support, not undermine, our integration and industrialisation objectives”.

At the backdrop of these developments, ministers adopted a joint declaration, urging African countries to prepare a common vision to activate the role of the WTO in supporting African countries to ensure that they affirm their entitlement to integration into the international trading system.

The declaration has not yet been made public, but ministers made a number of recommendations including, among others, encouraging members to cease from unilateral trade agreements which they say might undermine the principles of global trade.