Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Africa and WTO - Will Africa go the China way?

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In the 8th Ministerial Conference while a number of delegates spoke about the virtues of the multilateral trading system and the need to reduce protectionist barriers to trade, the address of the Kenyan Minister on behalf of about 100 (African)  members of the WTO needs to be reproduced,

"The African Group is deeply concerned with the paralysis in the DDA, after 10 years of costly negotiations to our countries.  In this respect, we wish to emphasize the following key areas of concern and priorities:- 
  •    We are committed to and urge urgent conclusion of the DDA in accordance with the existing mandate and on the basis of the Single undertaking.  In this regard, we call on all WTO members to intensify negotiations starting January 2012 on the basis of progress achieved to date.
  •     We re-emphasize the need for a fair and balanced outcome of the DDA, which must prioritise development as the main deliverable; with priority given to LDC issues, implementation-related issues & concerns, and effective Special & Differential (S&D) treatment.
  •    We underscore that any “new approaches” to unlock the impasse, must be multi-laterally acceptable and negotiated in an inclusive, transparent and bottom-up manner, and be firmly anchored within the Doha mandate.
  •    The Group advises that no attempt should be made to add “new issues” to DDA Agenda.
  •    We emphasize the compelling need to fully operationalize the mandate of the Committee on Trade and Development (CTD) as the focal point for development;
  •    We call upon the WTO members to adopt Measures and Decisions aimed at simplifying accession processes for acceding developing countries and LDCs.  We welcome the accession of Russia, Vanuatu, Samoa and Monte Negro.
  •    We call upon the General Council to initiate a comprehensive work programme to mitigate the impact of the food market prices and volatility, and report on the same by MC9.
  •    Last, but not least, we wish to insist on the provision of effective Special & Differential Treatment via sector-specific financial and technical assistance and sustainable capacity building.

   Finally, on behalf of my own delegation Kenya to say, we fully endorse all issues raised by the African Group and as the Friends of Development and reemphasize the centrality of development as a major outcome of this Ministerial Conference."

No strong words against "protectionist measures" or the need to "open up" trade. The negotiating stands taken by members has to be contextualised in the experiences and realities the countries are facing domestically. Whether the WTO will be able to take all these interests into account and balance competing interests in the overall pursuit of trade and development is to be seen.

An interesting piece on Africa's experience in the WTO's Dispute Settlement Mechanism is portrayed here. Titled "African Countires and the WTO Dispute Settlement System:strangers in an alien land?",it highlights the inadequate representation and participation of African nations in the WTO dispute settlement mechanism,

"In 1995, the World Trade Organization (WTO) came into existence, introducing some key reforms to the long-standing General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) system. The most important reform was the setup of the Dispute Settlement System (DSS). There was now a greater clarity of rules and regulations, binding decisions and an Appellant Body. One would imagine that the highly juridical and legalized system based on equality and strict rules would be somewhat advantageous to African countries (the largest group in the WTO). This has not been the case. In fact, African countries’ involvement in the WTO dispute settlement system in the first decade has been minimal at best. In the first decade (1995-2005) of the DSS, no African country was ever a complainant in a dispute and in only six cases was an African country a respondent. In addition, Egypt is the only African country to have shown initiative and request the establishment of a panel, in the Egypt-Definitive Anti-dumping Measures on Steel Rebar from Turkey case. The one comparatively active area for African states in the DSS is their participation in disputes as third parties. Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon and Cote-d’Ivoire have all participated in this capacity."

Another presentation by Advisory Centre for WTO Law (ACWL) showed that there were no disputes with African members as complainant or respondent, no Appellate Body members from sub-Saharan member countries and no African nationals are currently working int he WTO Dispute Settlement Secretariat. Whether the last two issues have a significant bearing on Africa's participation are debatable, it is a fact that Africa has not been able to utilise the dispute settlement framework to its advantage. There may be many reasons for this including costs and training capabilities.

The piece concludes by stating,

"To conclude, on one hand, the fact that the majority of WTO is made up of African countries counts for nothing until this presence is coupled with a strong understanding of the DSS mechanism. This issue is of pressing importance simply because African countries, especially the weakest of them, need the WTO DSS. As the Dispute Settlement System evolves along with International Economic Law, it will serve African countries well to get involved in reshaping new sets of legal principles and procedures that govern the system. However, on the other hand, there is clear evidence that the integration of African countries into the multi-lateral Dispute Settlement System has been a process leaving much to be desired. There is a great need for reform and sensitivity of the system that will ultimately enhance the long-term stability, predictability and legitimacy of the WTO Dispute Settlement System. A failure to reform could mean that the DSS will remain fundamentally prejudicial to the long-term position of African Countries and other developing economies in the global trading system."

Will 2012 be the year for Africa ? This piece recommends a China-Africa collaboration to overturn the tide,

Thanks to Sino-African multilateral relations as well as bilateral agreements with 49 out of the 54 African nations, China has outpaced the West to become the single most important economic partner with Africa.Predictably, this has attracted the ire of developed nations including on the matters environmental. Yet when the bigger picture is interrogated, Africa is better off looking to China in balancing developmental growth with ecological responsibility.

It is a fact that for Africa to overcome the hard-core poverty that afflicts its people, it must tap its natural resources. By not utilising unexploited natural resources, the "poverty amidst plenty" situation would not be reversed and Africans would continue to die from the ravages of droughts and famines.

China provides models for Africa to make poverty history since it (China) is not only a developing region like Africa, but provides important lessons having combated extreme poverty over the past three decades and more exemplarily since accession to WTO a decade ago.

African countries have a natural ally in China in terms of the responsibilities that developed nations should bear as far as carbon emissions are concerned."

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