TRADE POLICY REVIEW:
Concluding remarks by the Chairperson
- Trade Policy Review: The Gambia
This third Trade Policy Review has offered us an excellent opportunity to deepen our understanding of recent developments in The Gambia, and the achievements and challenges related to its trade and investment policies. Also, as was highlighted by several delegations during the review, this exercise has come at an important juncture for The Gambia, after having experienced a historical democratic change in government last year.
I would like to thank the Gambian delegation, headed by H.E. Dr. Isatou Touray, for the clear and thorough policy statement, and our discussant H.E. Mr. Daniel Blockert (Permanent Representative of Sweden) for his detailed and thoughtful analysis and assessments. I would also like to acknowledge the numerous comments and advance questions from the 19 delegations that took the floor during our deliberations.
Members noted that the Gambian economy continued to face challenges, but there were encouraging signs that it was stabilizing and that higher growth might take place. Some of the main problems referred to by delegations were high fiscal deficits, the growing public debt, and financially distressed state-owned enterprises. Also, it was considered that high government borrowing combined with tight monetary policy had resulted in high interest rates crowding out private sector development. However, as noted by the Gambian delegation, fiscal consolidation in 2017 had already slowed the growth of debt accumulation and has significantly brought down interest rates. The delegation also added that while real GDP growth averaged 2.9% in the period 2010-16, growth was forecast to reach 3% in 2017.
Members commended The Gambia for maintaining an open trade and investment regime and welcomed the new government's trade policy outlined by the Gambian delegation during the TPR; its main thrust being building trade capacity, improving competitiveness and promoting private sector development. The business environment is to be further reformed, and some taxes have already been reduced. The corporate income tax rate was cut from 30% to 27% in January 2018. Agriculture and fisheries, industry, transport and energy are seen as critical for development. The delegation also highlighted the importance of empowering women in the Gambian economy, which was welcomed by a number of delegations.
Members praised The Gambia for a range of reforms undertaken since the last Review. The country has adopted the five-band ECOWAS Common External Tariff (CET) from 1 January 2017. The average CET (MFN) rate is 12.3%, down from an average rate of 14.1% of the previous customs tariff. None of the CET rates exceeds The Gambia's tariff bindings. However, it was noted that there was a large gap between the country's average bound rate and average applied rates, and only 15% of the tariff lines were bound, rendering the tariff regime less predictable, although in practice the ECOWAS CET regime has reduced the country's discretion in setting tariff rates.
Members also welcomed that The Gambia had modernized its food safety, TBT, industrial property and government procurement regimes. Reference was also made to the opportunities arising from tourism and logistics. The Gambia was invited to consider acceding to the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement and several WIPO treaties, and was encouraged to deposit its instrument of acceptance of the Protocol amending the TRIPS Agreement. In response, the Gambian delegation informed Members that The Gambia had started consultations with WIPO on the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.
Some Members felt that there was room for improvement of the business environment, notably by facilitating access to financing, labour market reforms, and increasing effort in enhancing good governance. In their advance questions, some Members sought further clarification with regard to the investment regime, notably with regard to taxation, environmental impact assessment, and remaining restrictions on FDI.
The Gambian delegation reiterated its commitment to the multilateral trading system and announced, during the TPR meeting, that it had decided to open a trade mission in Geneva. The delegation also informed Members that all draft trade-related legislation and regulations were reviewed by a National Technical Regulation Committee to ensure consistency with WTO agreements. In this respect, The Gambia was invited to ensure WTO Members had an opportunity to comment on draft regulations affecting trade. Members welcomed that The Gambia's instrument of acceptance of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) was deposited in July 2017 and were encouraged by the announcement that its TFA notifications were submitted to the WTO in the course of this TPR. It was noted that these notifications would allow donors to identify the needs for assistance. Overall, it was observed that The Gambia had a good track record in notifications, although some notifications were still outstanding.
The Gambia has provided replies to all of the questions raised by Members. As noted by several Members during the exercise, there is a window of opportunity to expand aid for trade and other development aid to achieve The Gambia's goals to increase its participation in the multilateral trading system and to achieve higher and inclusive growth. The Gambia's own efforts through initiatives such as development plans were considered important to mobilize this assistance. I wish to thank again the Gambian delegation for their commitment to this exercise and all delegations that participated for their constructive feedback.