WTO NEWS: SPEECHES — DG PASCAL LAMY

Pascal Lamy's remarks at the closing session of the Aid for Trade conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

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This meeting — the last of our three regional reviews — has generated more interest, more dialogue, and more ideas than anyone had hoped for. It only reinforces my conviction that Africa is determined to succeed in world trade.

There have been too many important observations and insights to try to condense them into my brief remarks. We have heard that the problem is not a lack of competitive firms but the lack of competitive economic systems — and that if we can address this problem, Africa can compete with the world. We were reminded that helping Africa trade more is good for the world, not just for Africans — and that Aid for Trade should be seen as an investment, not charity. And we heard that the challenge is not just to build infrastructure, but to change mind sets — and that the most important change begins at the top — with a political commitment to making trade a central priority.

Which brings me to some of the key messages that I will be taking away from this conference:

First, leadership. It is impossible to overstate the importance of a focused and sustained national commitment to trade-led growth. The message we’ve heard again and again over the last day and a half is that trade must be a national priority, that leadership must come from the top, that there needs to be a strategy for getting there, and that this strategy needs to be shared across government and business, and mainstreamed in all facets of national policy. Countries which are unified and focused can harness globalization — countries which are uncertain or ambivalent cannot.

Second, priorities. The challenge for countries — and it is a big one politically — is to agree on the two or three objectives that will impact most on their trade growth — and then pursue them consistently over the long term. To have fifty priorities is to have no priorities. Even with increased Aid for Trade, financial resources are not limitless. Countries need to focus on what is most critical to increasing exports — on the key bottlenecks and constraints — and on the projects that can deliver the biggest return on investment. Making choices among competing interests and objectives is tough. It is also essential.

Third, thinking regionally, not just nationally. One way to narrow down priorities is to concentrate on regional needs and projects — from transport corridors to customs modernization. Many countries have small domestic markets. Many others are landlocked, and their ability to connect to the global economy — and to trade competitively — depends fundamentally on the connectivity and competitiveness of their neighbours. So in designing and implementing Aid for Trade strategies, regional integration must be seen as a necessary stepping stone to global integration. Most African countries are in the trade game together or not at all.

Fourth, predictability and accessibility of financing. There is a clear need for donors to follow through on their Hong Kong and broader Gleneagles commitments. We should be emphasising the need to deliver on these commitments, not second guessing them. At the same time, the efficient and effective delivery of financing can be just as important as the amounts involved — especially in a fast-changing global economy. Donors and financial institutions need to show progress on this front as well — by reducing red tape and fast-tracking disbursement.

Fifth, the key role of the private sector. Aid for Trade will be relevant if it is “market driven”. It risks irrelevance if it becomes a dialogue among bureaucrats. We not only need to listen to traders, investors and entrepreneurs, but bring them into the conversation — and at the most senior level — as we have done over the last day and a half. Private sector advice can only strengthen trade policy because it exporters who know their markets, who can identify their priorities, and who pay the price for delays, bottlenecks and red tape.

We also need to think much more creatively about using Aid for Trade as a catalyst to leverage the private sector's resources and dynamism. No matter how successful we are at mobilizing development assistance, aid will never provide the whole answer to trade capacity gaps. The big money — and the potential for real capacity building — lies with the private sector, and with increased trade, investment and growth.

Finally, cooperation. The reality is that no one ministry or agency or country can deliver Aid for Trade single-handedly. We have learned that where there are capacity “gaps” in Africa they often result from a breakdown of political cooperation and coherence, not just a lack of resources. Governments need to coordinate internally. Donors and financial institutions need to coordinate with each other and with governments. Countries need to coordinate regionally. And, as we have seen here, the South should be encouraged to continue increasing its coordination — and cooperation — with the South.

The plan now is to produce a concise report of this meeting — under the responsibility of the AfDB, the ECA and the WTO — which will be the transmission belt for your ideas, conclusions and recommendations at the Global Review in Geneva in November.

My view is that the report should be action-oriented — shifting gears from a discussion of concepts, which has been necessary up to now, to a discussion of specific plans aimed at concrete results. Moving from policy debate to needs assessment, and from needs assessment to deliverable plans.

  • First, we need to focus on two or three priorities for the region –– ones that will give us a clear set of objectives to aim for, and against which we can measure our success. This means making a distinction between medium and long-term objectives, and distilling our long list of Aid-for-Trade needs down to a short list of key priorities embodied in a deliverable plan. For example, I have heard a lot about the need to concentrate on infrastructure, trade facilitation, trade financing, and food and technical standards — and to think about these priorities in regional terms.

  • Second, we need to set out a clear timetable — for mapping priorities, mobilizing financing, and implementing projects — so that the Aid-for Trade initiative can start delivering measurable results. Measuring the efficiency of Aid for Trade is a complex issue. But we must build upon the analytical work that already exists in the World Bank and the OECD, for example.

  • Third, we need to identify a regional mechanism for bringing together the regional stakeholders — including the private sector — and for moving the process forward. Here I believe the AfDB and ECA are well placed to play a catalytic role.

This report cannot — and should not — provide all the answers now, but it should ask the right questions — with a view to making a start on addressing them in Geneva in November.

We need to show that Aid for Trade will deliver results — without at the same time raising unrealistic expectations. We need to provide a plan that is relevant to this region, fills “gaps”, and sets out ambitious but also realizable and specific objectives. Above all, we need to show that the world trading system can — and will — deliver more benefits for those who are still on the margins. Aid for Trade — I repeat — is no substitute for a successful Doha Development Round, with development as a central pillar. It is also no substitute for the right domestic policies. But Aid for Trade is an increasingly important and necessary complement.

You have made it clear — at this meeting — that African countries want to move forward. Let's keep up the momentum. Let's try and make the Geneva Aid-for-Trade Global Review in November another stepping stone in this process the ultimate goal of which is to mobilize more and better Aid for Trade. We know that it has to be more to be better. We also know that it has to be better to be more.

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