Last week, trade officials from across Africa gathered for the Commonwealth African Regional Preparatory Workshop ahead of the 13th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC13). The two-day workshop, held in Kigali, Rwanda on November 15-16, 2023, addressed key trade challenges facing African countries, including agriculture, fisheries subsidies, tax reform WTO and regional trade.
The workshop was a collaborative effort organized by the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Government of Rwanda, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). It provided a valuable opportunity for African countries to share their views and develop a common negotiating agenda for MC13. It was attended by senior trade officials from 20 African countries.
Participants discussed a wide range of issues, including the latest developments in the WTO negotiations, the challenges and opportunities facing African countries in the global trading system, and the need for African countries to collaborate to promote their interests within the WTO.
In his opening speech, Santiago Wills, Director of the General Council Division and Trade Negotiations Committee at the World Trade Organization stressed the importance of African participation in the WTO.
“This event is critical to our preparations for MC13, as WTO members fuel and lead the work of the WTO. People around the world are currently facing wars and conflicts, food and energy crises, climate change and natural disasters, cost of living pressures and development challenges. The need for bastions of stability and predictability as well as global cooperation has become even more urgent. This is why all eyes are on the WTO and other multilateral institutions to demonstrate our capacity to help meet these challenges.
“Dedicated to improving lives is an expression of the Commonwealth Charter which is at the heart of the Commonwealth. It is also one of the fundamental objectives enshrined in the preamble to the Marrakech Agreement establishing the WTO. A common philosophy implies a shared responsibility to serve people,” he said.
In his opening speech Brendan Vickers, Head of International Trade Policy at the Commonwealth Secretariat said:
“Trade is a key driver of economic growth and development in Africa. It can contribute to job creation, poverty reduction and improved livelihoods. It is therefore essential that African countries have a strong voice in the global trading system. The Commonwealth benefits from practical similarities: in language, common law, regulatory consistency, business procedures and large and vibrant diasporic communities. Our ability to take advantage of these similarities means that, although the Commonwealth is not a formal trading bloc, the costs of trade between Commonwealth countries are on average 21 per cent lower than those of trade with non-Commonwealth countries. .
The workshop covered a wide range of topics, including:
- Agriculture: On Africa’s priority issues in the context of the WTO agricultural negotiations and potential outcomes of MC13.
- Fishing subsidies: Organized in partnership with the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), it explored Africa’s priority issues in fisheries subsidies. Agreement negotiations and outstanding issues, including tackling subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and discussed some of the practical issues and challenges related to the ratification and implementation of the Agreement, including the use of the toolkits prepared by IISD.
- WTO reform: Examine Africa’s key interests, issues and priorities in WTO reform.
- African trade landscape: Explore key issues, opportunities and challenges for African countries in better utilizing the trade preferences of their continental and global trading partners.
- Digital commerce and e-commerce in Africa: Examine the opportunities and challenges related to the growth of digital trade in Africa, including developments in regional and multilateral negotiations ahead of WTO MC13.
- Trade, climate change and environmental sustainability: On the challenges and opportunities for Africa in tackling climate change and environmental sustainability through trade.
The workshop successfully brought together officials of commerce, fishing and agriculture across the continent to discuss key issues and support the African Group negotiation program for MC13. He also made a valuable contribution to the preparations for MC13 and helped ensure that African countries will play a strong and active role in the WTO.