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The event provided a timely context for African acceding governments to explore the synergies between WTO membership and the AfCFTA in order to advance domestic reforms and economic development. Over 70 representatives from African WTO accession candidates and WTO members as well as representatives of international organizations, government officials, academia, experts from partner institutions and the private sector attended the event.

The implementation of the AfCFTA is set to start on 1 July 2020, following the agreement's entry into force on 30 May 2019. All 44 African WTO members and nine WTO observers are signatories to the AfCFTA, with 29 having ratified the agreement to date.

The event was opened with a high-level session dedicated to the memory of the late Nigerian Ambassador and former WTO Director Chiedu Osakwe. The session was chaired by WTO Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff and was attended by Ethiopia's Minister of Trade and Industry Melaku Alebel, African Union (AU) Commissioner for Trade and Industry Alber M. Muchanga, UNECA Director for Regional Integration and Trade Stephen Karingi, former Minister of Commerce and Industry of Liberia Axel Addy and former WTO Senior Economist Patrick Low.

“Today's event is the result of a true partnership and collaboration with several institutions,” said DDG Wolff. “This year, the WTO celebrates its 25th anniversary. As members are seriously embarking on WTO reform debate to improve the functioning of the system, what I see is that most often, acceeding governments can appreciate far better the value which the system can offer them and do for them.”

The event followed the 4th meeting of the Working Party on the Accession of Ethiopia on 30 January which restarted its WTO accession negotiations. Minister Alebel stressed that Ethiopia's initiative to join the WTO is a key element in the pursuit of national development policy objectives. His speech is available here.

AU Commissioner Alber M. Muchanga underlined Africa's two-way contribution to the multilateral system — through the accession of African countries to the WTO and the formation of the AfCFTA, particularly at a time when protectionism and retaliatory trade measures are on the rise. The AfCFTA offers opportunities for acceding African countries to trade across Africa and helps them to prepare for WTO accession. His speech is available here.

UNECA Director Stephen Karingi reaffirmed Africa's confidence in a rules-based system as a tool for inclusive and people-centred development, and noted that, in spite of the challenges facing the multilateral trading system, almost half of the 22 countries currently negotiating WTO accession are from Africa. “Testing as these negotiations may be, it is notable that these countries are drawing on the successful accession experiences of three fellow African countries that joined the WTO since its establishment — Cabo Verde, Seychelles and Liberia.” His speech is available here.

Ambassador Amina Mohamed, Cabinet Secretary for Sports Culture and Heritage of Kenya, sent a statement where she underlined that the AfCFTA represents a bold and visionary step towards defining Africa’s place in the world trading community. With deeper African integration comes the scope for speaking with a stronger, more unified African voice, and an opportunity to shape the WTO system to be more responsive to Africa’s needs and to participate more fully in defining the WTO’s agenda and vision, she said. Her statement is available here.

Minister Axel Addy highlighted the benefits of Liberia's WTO accession in 2016 and noted the role of the AfCFTA in boosting regional trade. While some institutional and human capacity constraints remain, these could be overcome with strong internal coordination and targeted assistance and support through regional integration initiatives such as the AfCFTA, he added. 

Mr Low addressed some of the main aspects of the ongoing WTO reform debate, such as the WTO's negotiating function, the discussion on special and differential treatment and the procedural issues of transparency and notifications. 

The Regional Dialogue on WTO Accessions was originally dedicated to the Horn of Africa, which has the highest number of acceding countries in Africa, to share experience on WTO accessions. The previous two meetings were held in Kenya (2016) and Djibouti (2018). This is the first time the Regional Dialogue has extended participation to all African acceding countries.

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