All businesses depend on weather and climate no matter their size, location, products and services. In East Africa in particular, the agro-processing industry relies on rain-fed agriculture and is therefore vulnerable to changing climatic conditions. At the 22nd EAC Geneva Forum, East African WTO delegates were updated about such climate change challenges faced by the private sector on the ground. They also discussed WTO negotiation issues related to GATS disciplines on domestic services regulations.
The event was attended by EAC WTO delegates, as well as country-based representatives of the private sector, civil society and the government. Delegates provided valuable briefing on the negotiation issues, clarified some of the issues on the agenda and encouraged feedback from the participants.
Private Sector’s experience of climate change
Through country update notes compiling views from the private sector, PACT EAC project partners from the five EAC countries updated their Geneva-based delegates about the situation on the ground. They stressed that the private sector has been directly affected by climate change (droughts, floods, frost, etc.) which has undermined their production, leading to low productivity as well as increased prices impacting processors, retailers and consumers alike. Their recommendations included the following: (i) Invest in appropriate infrastructure that support agro-processing and are climate-resilient; (ii) Encourage investments in environment-friendly technologies and insurance sector to provide services that can lessen climate-related risks; (iii) Provide trainings on agro-processing technology as well as on climate mitigation and adaptation mechanisms; (iv) Recognize that green market access can be to the benefit of developing countries and LDCs; and (v) Take negotiating positions that enhance growth of the local industrial base, to protect and enhance EAC agro-industrial development potential.
GATS disciplines on domestic services regulations
The other item for discussion addressed the WTO negotiations on disciplines for domestic services regulation. These revolve around a number of issues that could be categorized as follows: transparency obligations; the necessity test i.e. the approach to determining trade effects of domestic regulatory measures to ensure that they do not constitute unnecessary barriers to trade in services; applicability of the disciplines; and their nature, whether horizontal or sectoral.
CUTS International presented a WTO issue note briefly analyzing the main issues under negotiation in the development of the above disciplines, highlighting some of the concerns faced by developing countries. In mapping the way forward, the note pointed out the interest of developing countries for such WTO disciplines to be general in nature such as to accommodate a wide variety of national circumstances, while striking a balance so as not to be rendered ineffective. Disciplines based on the prevailing frameworks in the developed countries should be avoided as they would likely cause implementation challenges.
Finally, it was advised that developing countries and least developed countries should also push for the linking of resulting obligations from the disciplines on domestic regulations, to the development of regulatory and institutional capacity at the local and regional levels of government. This should be premised on the principle of special and differential treatment similar to what was included in the Trade Facilitation Agreement.