East African delegates to the WTO met in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, with representatives of the civil society who have been providing them perspectives from the ground on trade issues of their interest under the “EAC Geneva Forum”. Discussions identified potential topics to be taken up this year and possible ways to strengthen the initiative.
CUTS recalled that the EAC Geneva Forum, which has been functioning for the past four years, is continuing under the PACT EAC2 project. The purpose is for EAC WTO delegates to have access to stakeholders’ perspectives from the ground on WTO issues they deem of key interest to them. This is done through the provision of country update notes by the project’s country partners, who consult stakeholders on the ground.
Delegates reaffirmed the usefulness of this forum, which can work in synergy with the existing regular Ambassador-level consultative meeting of EAC missions in Geneva.
Topics for consideration
Discussions identified a number of topics which the EAC Geneva Forum may address this year and beyond, which are of interest to East African Countries. In particular East African WTO delegates requested the following topics to be addressed in future forums and possibly dedicated studies:
- Value Chains: A forum meeting and possibly a technical study would be needed to analyze which are the companies active in East African value chains. This would help EAC mission to understand the terrain in their countries with regard to value chains and engage constructively, in the event that the issue comes up in WTO discussions.
- E-Commerce: For the same reasons, the forum should explore the issue of e-commerce.
- Investment: EAC member states like other LDCs and developing countries have signed bilateral investment treaties which its set ups denies the role of the state to control foreign investments. Moreover, the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism has led many countries lose the cases and found paying huge compensations.
- Other topics: Rules of Origin, Trade in Services, Competition Policy, Government Procurement, Public Food stockholding, Non-Tariff barriers.
Strengthening the Forum: Some Ideas
The forum could consider the opportunity of using NRG meetings to disseminate and communicate about the outcomes of MC10 and how stakeholders should use them in practice. Indeed, it is frustrating for delegates to fight for a result that is then not utilized. This could be seen as a “reverse” EAC Geneva Forum, whereby delegates can brief widely their stakeholders. Another way to do this could be to include an “Update by delegates” on the forum meeting agenda, when relevant.
More generally, dissemination of the forum findings and discussions could be strengthened. For instance, relevant departments in the trade ministry should be kept in the loop, and “updates by delegates” could be included. The project’s online groups could be leveraged in this regard.
On substantive matters, it would be interesting if the forum papers’ could have a monitoring aspect, identifying recent measures taken by other WTO members that affect EAC countries. The forum could also help identify capacity gaps to be addressed.