WTO (Negotiations, Regular Work, Leadership)

The Ninth WTO Ministerial Conference: What is at stake for the EAC in Bali?

The 9th EAC Forum meeting under the PACT-EAC project was held on Tuesday 26th March 2013. The issues under deliberation were EAC member country perspectives on the forthcoming WTO Ministerial conference in Bali and the WTO Services waiver in favour of LDCs. These were based on country update notes as well as an issue paper developed on the latter issue.

Highlights from Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania’s country update notes were presented. These notes take into account the views of various stakeholders such as private sector, farmer’s organisations, CSOs, Government officials, members of the academia, media and others. Issues arising included the following: (i) Countries reaffirmed importance of MTS as there are high costs of bilateral trade negotiations ; (ii) Kenya stated that any trade negotiations – multilateral or bilateral – should not undermine intra-regional trade; (iii) There is a sense of exclusion and associated risk with the rise of plurilaterals ; (iv) There are low levels of awareness concerning issues of MC9 as well as WTO overall – Insufficient efforts put on providing information to the public. Information that transpires from the meeting and potential benefits for EAC should be remitted through timely public communications; (v) Trade Facilitation negotiation outcomes must ensure that both exports and imports are facilitated; (vi) There is lot of scepticism regarding outcomes of the MC9 with regard to issues of interest to EAC.

The country notes came-up with some recommendations to their Geneva based ambassadors, among which were the following: (i) EAC negotiators come up with concrete offensive and defensive interests for the EAC for TF to sell to the other WTO members; (ii) Include the private sector and CSO representatives in the delegations to the MC9; (iii) Lobby for capacity development of stakeholders regarding WTO processes and institutionalize stakeholder participation in processes surrounding WTO. ; (iv) EAC Geneva based ambassadors should regularly meet and articulate the EAC position for MC9

In the ensuing deliberations the following observations were made: (i) EAC Geneva based delegates had been facilitated under the PACT project, to attend national reference group meetings in their respective countries, and the Tanzanian delegation expressed its tremendous appreciation for the opportunity, they gave a brief review of the issues that were discussed and general feedback from the event. At the time of the EAC Forum, the Burundi and Ugandan delegates who attended their respective national meetings were yet to return and will give their feedback later.; (ii) With regard to the issues highlighted from the country update notes, it was observed that private sector involvement and participation in trade policy including at WTO level needs to be taken up with the respective Capitals, as well as in the past such efforts were supported by development partners through initiatives such as JITAP, these ceased once the projects came to an end. It was also muted that the private sector should consider facilitating its own participation in these processes.; (iii) Concerning the lack of awareness on on-going WTO issues and outcomes amongst stakeholders, it was observed that participation in meetings such as the EAC Forum held at CUTS International and in events such as the national meetings under the PACT project were excellent opportunities through which awareness could be raised amongst stakeholders.

Following the discussion on the highlights of the country notes, a brief review of the WTO LDC Services Waiver was also given at the meeting. The need to identify beneficiary countries’ comparative advantages was emphasised (this is partly being undertaken to some extent by several organizations, namely ICTSD, WTO, UNCTAD, South Centre). The question of whether governments could contribute towards the funding of these studies was raised. Mode 4: “the temporary movement of labour from one country to another” is probably seen as the most suitable market access opportunity under the waiver, but efforts should also be directed towards identifying more opportunities from the other modes of services.