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Geneva, 31 October 2000

Director-General Moore hails African free-trade area

World Trade Organization Director-General Mike Moore Tuesday hailed the establishment by nine African countries of a free-trade area covering 170 million people.

Mr. Moore said the nine members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) who have formed the free-trade area have exhibited leadership and courage which should provide inspiration to governments around the world.

“This agreement is a stepping stone toward greater development and higher living standards for Africans. It represents a vote of confidence in trade as an engine for growth and development. Too much of the world is, at present, focussed inward. These governments have shown the importance of looking beyond one's borders for solutions to the problems which plague many developing countries,” Mr. Moore said.

Mr. Moore said that trade liberalization at the regional level consistent with WTO rules can strengthen the global trading system by providing fresh ideas and by instilling citizens with confidence in trade as a means not only of economic development but also of building closer and peaceful relations with neighbouring countries.

The nine governments (Djibouti, Egypt, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe) have pledged to integrate their economies further by permitting the free movement of skilled labour by 2004, the free movement of people by 2014 and a currency union by 2025.

The Director-General said he looked forward to talking with ministers from these countries when he travels to Libreville, Gabon, 13-15 November for a meeting of African trade ministers. The meeting is being organized by the government of Gabon with the co-operation of the WTO Secretariat. The purpose of the upcoming meeting is twofold; to bring ministers together for an exchange of views on the future work programme of the trading system and to provide a series of technical co-operation workshops for senior officials.