The World Trade Organization’s (WTO’s) highest decision making body, the Ministerial Conference meets bi annually with the next conference scheduled to take place in Buenos Aires – Argentina in December 2017. At this meeting, East African WTO delegates considered views from stakeholders in the region, on what priorities should be at the forefront of deliberations in the forthcoming Ministerial Conference.
The Conference has the mandate to make decisions on issues under the multilateral trading system, which it exercises in confluence with members agreed positions arrived at through negotiations. Presently there are several issues being negotiated and considered for decisions in the forthcoming conference: these range from agriculture (including the need to address domestic subsidies; the cotton issue; a permanent solution to public stock holding for food security, market access through tariff simplification, etc.); Services (the issue of domestic regulations amongst others); Special and Differential Treatment for developing countries and Least Developed Countries (LDCs); addressing fisheries subsidies; and others such as the need to consider negotiating issues such as e-commerce; investment facilitation etc.
The meeting was informed by country update notes, which captured the views of each EAC Member countries stakeholders. These included perspectives from business chambers of commerce; sector associations; government Ministries and Departments; civil society organizations; as well as academia and media stakeholders involved in international trade and related issues. The notes were complimented by an issue note highlighting issues of interest to small developing countries and Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
In the ensuing discussions, it was observed as follows:
- It was noted that despite efforts so far exerted in the negotiations, given the geo-political environment, MC11 deliberations were likely to be quite complex
- This has been exacerbated by the fact that there is no agreed categorization of WTO Members (apart from LDCs), which complicates concessions demanded by certain Members considered to be more advanced than other in the same categorisation
- Never the less, optimism remains, with expectations that an outcome from the forthcoming Ministerial on a commitment by WTO Members to continue negotiations of issues of interest to developing countries and LDCs, such as addressing agriculture (market access, subsidies, safe guards etc.) would make a positive outcome from the Ministerial Conference.
- Moreover, a substantial outcome on fisheries would be crucial, especially an outcome to deal with illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, as well as over fishing and overcapacities. The fact that inland fisheries contribute more than marine fisheries to Kenya and Tanzania (the only countries with marine boundaries in EAC) points to underutilisation and lack of capacity to leverage this important sector.
- There was broad consensus among participants that African countries should prioritise the strengthening of the intra-African trade as a complement to the focus on Africa´s trade relations with the rest of world. This would be a good basis to develop the continents intra-trade potential that remains largely untapped, especially in light of the slow pace of the multilateral trading system process that is currently stagnant
Delegates specifically expressed their appreciation for the forum and especially the country update notes, as well as the WTO Issue note. It was observed that these are of great assistance not only to their present work (that covers wide issues) but also to their Capital based colleagues dealing on these matters. The notes have facilitated and enabled better briefing of relevant officials involved in the WTO negotiations and will no doubt be useful in the drive towards the negotiations in Buenos Aires.