Liberia officially joined the WTO on 14 July 2016 while Afghanistan joined on 29 July 2016. As fragile and conflict-affected (FCA) least-developed countries (LDCs), they used the WTO accession process as an instrument to drive economic growth and to promote inclusive and sustainable peace.
The event took place within the framework of the WTO's Trade for Peace Programme, which aims at promoting the multilateral trading system as a pathway to development and sustainable peace by highlighting the role of trade and economic integration in the peace, security and humanitarian fields. The Programme directly responds to Sustainable Development Goal 16 (promoting peace, justice and strong institutions) and 17 (promoting partnerships for the goals) by leveraging the multilateral trading system for peace and stability.
Opening the event, DDG Zhang highlighted the power of international trade to act as an engine for inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction, as reflected in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. He also noted that the Trade for Peace Programme's interdisciplinary approach “allows us to link trade for peace to the various socio-economic vulnerabilities of fragile countries such as poverty, inequality, unemployment, security risks, food scarcity, climate change and many other issues which are crucial to the achievement of the SDGs.” His full statement is here.
Mawine Diggs, Minister of Commerce and Industry of Liberia, recounted Liberia's accession experience and the challenges faced following a sharp drop in commodity prices from 2012 to 2015 and the Ebola epidemic in 2014. Despite socio-economic and health challenges, the Liberian government seized WTO membership as an opportunity to carry out extensive reforms to address domestic insecurity and rebuild the economy for inclusive growth. Her full statement is here.
Sulaiman Bin Shah, Deputy Minister of Industry and Commerce of Afghanistan, described the challenges faced by Afghanistan during the accession process. He noted WTO membership was a key aspect of Afghanistan's domestic reform agenda, sending an important signal to the international community. Trade and investment were central components of the reform agenda, “directly [resulting] in Afghanistan securing the title of best reformed by the World Bank's Doing Business Index (2019) and achieving an export target of [USD]$1 billion,” he affirmed. His full statement is here.
Speakers shared their perspectives on various issues, including the post-accession plans of their respective countries, the systemic challenges faced by FCA LDCs pursuing economic integration and the importance of highlighting the needs of FCA countries in international fora. They also referred to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on FCA countries and vaccine access and equity. Several of the 85 attendees asked about the lessons for FCA countries that can be drawn from the accession experiences of Afghanistan and Liberia. They also asked about the direction of the Trade for Peace Programme under the leadership of WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Closing the event, DDG Zhang called for collaboration and partnerships in addressing fragility and achieving the SDGs: “Our goal is to continue to expand our scope of cooperation and break silos to deliver peace dividends. So, I invite you all to join forces with us to fast-track our collective progress towards addressing fragility and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said.