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28 June 2001
Gabon: June 2001

The Trade Policy Review Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) concluded its first review of Gabon on 26 and 28 June 2001. The text of the Chairperson's concluding remarks is attached as a summary of the salient points which emerged during the discussion.

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First press release
Summary of Secretariat report
  > Summary of Government report

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The review enables the TPRB to conduct a collective examination of the full range of trade policies and practices of each WTO member countries at regular periodic intervals to monitor significant trends and developments which may have an impact on the global trading system.

The review is based on two reports which are prepared respectively by the WTO Secretariat and the government under review and which cover all aspects of the country's trade policies, including its domestic laws and regulations, the institutional framework, bilateral, regional and other preferential agreements, the wider economic needs and the external environment. A record of the discussion and the Chairperson's summing-up together with these two reports will be published in due course at the complete trade policy review of Gabon and will be available from the WTO Secretariat, Centre William Rappard, 154 rue de Lausanne, 1211 Geneva 21.

Since December 1989, the following reports have been completed: Argentina (1992 and 1999), Australia (1989, 1994 and 1998), Austria (1992), Bahrain (2000) Bangladesh (1992 and 2000), Benin (1997), Bolivia (1993 and 1999), Botswana (1998), Brazil (1992, 1996 and 2000), Burkina Faso (1998), Cameroon (1995), Canada (1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998 and 2000), Chile (1991 and 1997), Colombia (1990 and 1996), Costa Rica (1995), Côte d’Ivoire (1995), Cyprus (1997), the Czech Republic (1996), the Dominican Republic (1996), Egypt (1992 and 1999), El Salvador (1996), the European Communities (1991, 1993, 1995, 1997 and 2000), Fiji (1997), Finland (1992), Gabon (2001), Ghana (1992 and 2001), Guinea (1999), Hong Kong (1990, 1994 and 1998), Hungary (1991 and 1998), Iceland (1994 and 2000), India (1993 and 1998), Indonesia (1991, 1994 and 1998), Israel (1994 and 1999), Jamaica (1998), Japan (1990, 1992, 1995,1998 and 2000), Kenya (1993 and 2000), Korea, Rep. of (1992, 1996 and 2000), Lesotho (1998), Macau (1994), Madagascar (2001), Malaysia (1993 and 1997), Mali (1998), Mauritius (1995), Mexico (1993 and 1997), Morocco (1989 and 1996), New Zealand (1990 and 1996), Namibia (1998), Nicaragua (1999), Nigeria (1991 and 1998), Norway (1991, 1996 and 2000), Pakistan (1995), Papua New Guinea (1999), Paraguay (1997), Peru (1994 and 2000), the Philippines (1993), Poland (1993), Romania (1992 and 1999), Senegal (1994), Singapore (1992, 1996 and 2000), Slovak Republic (1995), the Solomon Islands (1998), South Africa (1993 and 1998), Sri Lanka(1995), Swaziland (1998), Sweden (1990 and 1994), Switzerland (1991, 1996 and 2000 (jointly with Liechtenstein), Tanzania (2000), Thailand (1991, 1995 and 1999), Togo (1999), Trinidad and Tobago (1998), Tunisia (1994), Turkey (1994 and 1998), the United States (1989, 1992, 1994, 1996 and 1999), Uganda (1995), Uruguay (1992 and 1998), Venezuela (1996), Zambia (1996) and Zimbabwe (1994).


I noticed a warm atmosphere and a spirit of support for Gabon among the delegations present during the country's first trade policy review, which I consider to have been particularly successful. All of us are considerably enlightened as to the situation in Gabon, the country's potential and the challenges lying ahead. We have had a very fruitful dialogue concerning the economic reform that Gabon has launched and the role of trade policy in that reform. The process was facilitated by the presence of a large and multidisciplinary delegation, skilfully led by Gabon's Trade Minister, Mr. Mabika.

In particular, we were able to appreciate the measures taken by the Government of Gabon to improve its integration into the multilateral trading system. The creation of a National Committee to oversee WTO matters from the capital was a decisive step. Many speakers acknowledged Gabon's action on behalf of the WTO in Africa as host for the Trade Ministers at the Libreville Conference last November.

We all agree that the health of the Gabonese economy depends heavily on the income from dwindling oil resources, and that diversification is therefore a must. Many of the questions raised by delegations concerned the strategy adopted by the authorities in the face of this challenge, notably in the areas of privatization and investment, where Gabon has made progress. Many statements also raised the issue of the Government's support measures for its industrial development policy, including disciplined management of public finance, reform of the civil service, and continuation of the fight against corruption, supported by the Bretton Woods institutions. In this context, incentives, subsidies, and domestic tax reductions or exemptions for enterprises might lead to problems of consistency with Gabon's WTO commitments.

On the subject of the application of Gabon's trade policy instruments, which depend for the most part on the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC), I noted the importance attributed by delegations to ensuring coherence between the regional and multilateral dimensions of commercial policy. Delegations expressed concern that the rates applied were above the bound rates in Gabon's schedule for 40 per cent of the tariff lines. Mr. Mabika assured us that his Government was aware of the problem and that the Gabonese authorities intended to find a rapid solution through negotiations under Article XXVIII of the GATT 1994, in full conformity with the relevant rules. Once the authorities have dealt with this problem, we will all be able to congratulate Gabon for its commitment, exceptional among the African countries, to the binding of all of its tariff lines at ceiling rates.

Other questions were also raised by certain delegations with respect to the implementation of the WTO Agreements, including the continued application of a surcharge initially scheduled to be eliminated half way through 2000. The Minister informed us that he intended to submit a proposal to his Government for its elimination. Concerns were also expressed regarding VAT and excise tax reductions for locally produced goods, as well as the implementation of the provisions of the Customs Valuation Agreement, the Anti-Dumping Agreement, the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures and the Agreement on Safeguards. The implementation of the TRIPS Agreement, which was delayed in Gabon pending the collective ratification of the Bangui Agreement, revised by members of the AIPO, was also a source of concern: I understood from Mr. Mabika's comments that the necessary ratifications were imminent, and that it would be implemented within two months.

Regarding Gabon's sectoral policies, delegations focused above all on the problem of food security, the need for sustainable management of non-renewable natural resources (in particular fishery and forest resources) and the strengthening of competitiveness through a more efficient services sector, in which connection I understood that Gabon was urged to deepen its commitments under the GATS, particularly in the areas of telecommunication and financial services, as well as transport, in the context of the ongoing negotiations.

Mr. Mabika gave precise answers to these questions, and I would like to thank him for his cooperation. These answers, together with his statements, also address the question which, I would venture to say, underlies all others: how can a developing country like Gabon envisage full participation in the WTO multilateral trading system? Mr. Mabika spoke of an urgent need to deal with Gabon's onerous debt burden, a concern which, while not within the competence of the WTO, would undoubtedly be transmitted by the delegations present to their authorities. He also spoke of the urgent need in his country to build up the capacity of its human resources through technical assistance, an essential element in ensuring that the Gabonese achieved ownership of their own development process.

Fortunately, as recognized by a number of speakers, technical assistance is an area in which WTO Member countries can act. These speakers urged Gabon to specify its needs in a programme which might then be accepted; this request was fully met by the Minister. Indeed, WTO Members shared Gabon's goal of integration into the global economy and the multilateral system, and were ready to provide concrete and significant support. It is on this point that there was a true convergence of views between the delegation of Gabon, the discussant, the Secretariat and all Members present here today. I congratulate you and thank you for your participation.