2 and 4 April 2003

Concluding remarks by the Chairperson

See also:
> Press release: Reforms have contributed to first signs of economic recovery

The meeting has allowed Members to come to a far better understanding of Burundi's trade and economic policies and of the very real challenges it faces.  In this we have been very much assisted by the Burundi delegation, led by Minister Charles Karikurubu.  I would like to thank Minister Karikurubu for the open and very committed approach to this TPR.  As a result, we have come to a better appreciation of the reform agenda facing Burundi and I think we all appreciate the willingness of the Burundi Government to pursue such reforms, notwithstanding the enormous difficulties arising out of the prolonged crisis that has confronted Burundi.  This had been evidenced by recent steps taken to improve macroeconomic management and liberalize trade.  Members welcomed the reactivation of Burundi's inter-ministerial coordination committee on the WTO as a way of enhancing its participation in the organization.

Members noted the extreme dependence of Burundi on exports of coffee, and, to a lesser degree, tea.  A number of policy-related factors have hindered export diversification, and Burundi's ability to derive development benefits from its participation in international trade.  High protection for “traditional” sectors has discouraged investment in non-traditional agricultural exports, while the mixed nature of tariff escalation has not encouraged investment in certain processing activities.  Extensive state intervention crowds out private sector activity.  The high cost of certain services, an underdeveloped financial sector, and high transport costs related to Burundi's landlocked situation have also contributed to supply-side bottlenecks.  

Members stressed that improvements to Burundi's business environment could be made through reforms to the investment code aiming at eliminating its bias toward import substitution, and establishing simple and transparent procedures.  Further tariff reductions would reduce current reliance on a myriad overlapping incentive schemes; fewer exemptions could in turn mitigate the fiscal impact of tariff reforms.  Members also emphasized the importance of proceeding with the privatization programme, and, in parallel to this, of developing adequate regulatory frameworks and competition policy.  They recognized that reforms needed to be accompanied by the provision of adequate technical assistance, including in capacity building.  Members said that the Integrated Framework, in which Burundi participates, could help to meet priority technical assistance needs, and integrate trade reforms into its overall strategy for poverty reduction.  

Members noted Burundi's participation in COMESA, and the efforts undertaken to fully integrate into the COMESA customs union by 2005.  They also noted the gains that could potentially accrue to Burundi from improvements in market access that would arise from a completion of negotiations under the Doha Development Agenda, while acknowledging that Burundi would need specific assistance to help it meet sanitary, phytosanitary, and technical requirements in export markets.  They stressed that the stability and predictability of Burundi's trade regime could be enhanced by increasing the scope of bindings on non-agricultural products, lowering ceiling bindings on agricultural products, transposing pre-Uruguay Round tariff concessions into the HS nomenclature, and undertaking a greater level of commitments under the GATS.  They also urged Burundi to adopt WTO-consistent customs valuation procedures as part of the wider process of customs reforms, and to respect the principle of national treatment in the application of certain domestic taxes.

Some clarification was sought regarding procurement procedures and domestic preferential margins under the existing regime.  On intellectual property rights, Members sought further information on existing legislation.  Clarification was also sought on the following issues:

  • measures taken to promote sustainable development;

  • trade facilitation, pre-shipment inspection;

  • import licensing procedures;

  • incentives for production and exports, including export processing zones;

  • contingency trade remedies;

  • technical assistance needs, “mainstreaming” trade into the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper; and

  • the regulatory framework for telecommunications.

Members appreciated the responses provided by the Burundi delegation, and looked forward to further replies. 

I believe that this meeting of the TPRB has allowed an in-depth reflection on how it may be possible to develop a blueprint for policy action that would place Burundi on a higher growth path.  It has drawn attention both to Burundi's determination to pursue its reform agenda and to areas in which policy reforms could enhance transparency and predictability in Burundi's trade regime, and contribute to its further integration into the multilateral trading system.  I trust that the main considerations of this meeting will be incorporated into the Integrated Framework process in order to strengthen the linkages between trade and poverty reduction.  I urge all Members to support Burundi in its efforts to take up its challenges, and to pay particular attention to its request for technical assistance.