accessions: Regional Dialogue

Third Regional Dialogue on WTO Accessions for Africa

Deepening Economic Integration in Africa through WTO Membership and AfCFTA Implementation

United Nations Conference Centre (UNCC), Addis Ababa

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Background

As the World Trade Organization (WTO) celebrates its 25th anniversary, 2020 marks a critical year for the global trade community.  World trade growth has stalled in 2019.  Citing trade conflicts as the biggest downside risk, the WTO downgraded its forecast for world trade growth in 2019 to 1.2%, down from 3.0% and 4.6% in 2018 and 2017 respectively.  At the last meeting of the Trade Negotiation Committee in December 2019, the WTO Director-General gave a downbeat assessment of the state of the multilateral trading system.  Noting the serious challenge posed by the effective suspension of the appellate review function in the dispute settlement system, he warned that the choices Members would make in the coming months would define the trajectory of the system.  Many WTO Members have also expressed a more general view that serious consideration should be given to reforming aspects of the WTO in order to enhance its effectiveness as the mainstay of multilateral trade governance. In this context, the upcoming 12th Ministerial Conference, to be held in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, on 8 – 11 June, is seen by many as a litmus test on the ability of the system to deliver meaningful multilateral outcomes, including in the areas of fisheries subsidies, agriculture and accessions, as well as the extension of decisions on the e-Commerce moratorium and TRIPS non-violation.  At the same time, some Members are actively engaged in the so-called Joint Initiatives aimed at commencing new negotiations in the areas of e‑Commerce, Investment Facilitation, MSMEs, Domestic Regulation in Services and Women Empowerment. 

In the African continent, on the other hand, the outlook is positive and forward looking for 2020 as African countries are deepening regional integration through the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which will begin on 1 July.(1)  All nine African countries which are currently in the process of joining the WTO – Algeria, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Libya, Sao Tome & Principe, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan – have signed the AfCFTA Agreement and three of them(2)  have ratified it.  As many of the African WTO acceding governments are expected to intensify their engagement at the level of their respective accession Working Parties in 2020, one critical issue facing trade negotiators is how to ensure coherence in the pursuit of their country's domestic economic reform agenda, anchored by WTO accession process, while in parallel, deepening regional integration efforts, through the AfCFTA implementation.  Issues such as coordinating policy measures, including sequencing, inter-ministerial coordination and stakeholder consultations are critical factors for policymakers and trade negotiators to consider.  Likewise, given that the AfCFTA is now in force, and especially once its operational phase commences, accession to the AfCFTA Agreement will become an important issue for the continent.  Accordingly, this Dialogue will provide an opportunity to reflect on the synergies between the parallel processes including on the issue of accession to the AfCFTA Agreement.

Since the establishment of the WTO in 1995, 36 governments, including three from the African continent, have successfully used the WTO accession process to design and implement credible economic and trade policy frameworks, build up their resilience to external shocks by diversifying their exports whilst also promoting heightened transparency and good governance.  Given that contemporary trade policy reaches deeply behind borders into issues of domestic regulatory conduct, both WTO accession and regional integration efforts can serve as important disciplinary functions by locking-in necessary reforms that may otherwise prove difficult to implement. In pursuing sustainable and equitable development for the benefit of all, it is therefore important to align accession-related domestic reforms to a broader national development agenda which includes, among others, economic diversification, enhancement of institutions and regulatory frameworks, upgrading of human capacities and skills, attraction of foreign direct investment, and improvements in the business environment.

Against this background, the Third Regional Dialogue on WTO Accessions for Africa, to be held on 12 – 14 February 2020, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, will focus on “Deepening Economic Integration in Africa through WTO Membership and AfCFTA Implementation”.(3)  This Dialogue, hosted by the Government of Ethiopia, is organised by the WTO Secretariat, in partnership with the African Union Commission (AUC), the International Trade Centre (ITC), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the World Bank. English-French interpretation will be provided.

The Dialogue will aim to promote a discussion among key trade policy stakeholders in Africa across the following sessions:

Programme

High level opening session: Africa and the Multilateral Trading System
Session 1: Assessing the Economic Impact of Market Opening
Session 2: Maximizing the Benefits of the AfCFTA through WTO Accession
Session 3: WTO Accession and the AfCFTA: Building Synergies on Substance
Session 4: WTO Accession and the AfCFTA: Building Synergies on Process
Session 5: Engagement with Domestic and International Stakeholders


Notes

  1. As of January 2020, all AU Member States, except Eritrea, signed the Agreement and out of this, 29 have ratified it. back to text
  2. As of January 2020, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, and Sao Tome & Principe have ratified the AfCFTA. back to text
  3. The first two Regional Dialogues were held for acceding governments in the Horn of Africa, first hosted by the Government of Kenya in August 2017 and then by the Government of Djibouti in December 2018. The respective themes of the Dialogues were: “Fostering Synergies and Coherence between Regional Integration the MTS through WTO Accessions” and “Trade for Peace through WTO Accessions”.  The outcome documents are available in WTO document WT/ACC/30 and WT/ACC/34. back to text

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