27 mai 2004, Kigali, Rwanda

Second Ordinary Session of the Conference of the African Union Ministers of Trade

Speech by H.E. Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda at the official opening Ceremony.

The Speaker of the Senate;
The Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies;
The Right Honourable Prime Minister;
The President of the Supreme Court;
Honourable African Union Trade Ministers;
Honourable Ministers and Ministers of State from Rwanda;
Director-General of the World Trade Organization;
Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa;
African Union Commissioner for Trade;
Senators and Members of Parliament;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Distinguished Delegates;
Ladies and Gentlemen;

First of all, let me welcome you to Rwanda, and say that I am pleased to join you at these important deliberations.

While brief, I hope that your time here in Kigali, will be very productive.

This is, indeed a crucial conference, as it takes place after trade negotiations have faced some difficulties.

But, clearly, there have been discernible indications of a mood for change recently, and we must not lose sight of signs of recent positive developments and moves from our trade partners.

There have been meetings, and steps have been taken to remove us from this impasse.

And I would like to pay tribute to WTO for ensuring that their negotiating machinery is up and running.

This window of opportunity is a real one, and we cannot allow it to slip away.

Clearly, we should seize the occasion, use real imagination and be as constructive as possible.

As the Director-General of WTO has said, flexibility and accommodation are the key.

We all have our priorities and interests.

This would be a complicating factor in any negotiation.

That is why the search for compromises is of paramount importance.

And let no one think that flexibility and a predisposition to compromise is a sign of weakness or a sell-out.

Rather, it should be seen as a willingness to advance our common interests, resulting in a win-win situation.

I subscribe to the view that Africa needs the multilateral trading system as much as the multilateral system needs Africa to play its deserved role in moving forward the agenda of the WTO.

International trade is an important factor of external finance for sustainable growth and poverty reduction.

Without international trade, we in the developing world, will not be able to create sufficient wealth to grow out of poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

You are aware that in terms of population, Africa represents about 12 per cent of the world population.

But as a percentage of global economy, Africa represents less than 2 per cent in terms of international trade, gross domestic product (GDP), and foreign direct investment (FDI).

The social conditions of our people remain the same.

In parts of the African continent, poverty levels have actually increased and living standards have deteriorated.

This clearly shows that only a strong and vibrant multilateral trading system, in which Africa has a stake, can unlock Africa's economic potential, and reverse its marginalisation from the global economy.

When I talk about the economies of our countries, economic figures and balance sheets alone do not give the real picture.

For I am talking about issues that have a human face; issues that, if not addressed, have a devastating impact on the welfare of our people.

These are issues of poverty, illiteracy, disease, of unemployment and very low incomes; issues of very poor living standards.

Alleviating these ills is what international trade is all about, and I urge you to keep in mind this important dimension in your deliberations.


Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen;

Our concerns in the multilateral trading system are well known and have been articulated before. They include unfavourable trade conditions, unfair trade rules, barriers to market access, tariff peaks and tariff escalation on Africa's exports, and distortions to agricultural trade caused by subsidies in developed countries.

If this state of affairs continues, we cannot benefit from the global trading system.

We recognise that there can be general convergence on the need to agree on frameworks in some of these areas, and that progress will be made in others after further clarification and negotiation.

Of course, negotiations can be difficult and there will be some amongst our trade partners who will seek to use divide and rule in the process.

While we should endeavour to narrow the differences between developed countries and ourselves, African countries need to present a unified position.

This is crucial because it is the only way we can forge trade and economic partnerships we want with the developed world.

All negotiations and trade agreements we enter into should aim to promote the economic growth of all African countries, big and small, without discrimination and disadvantage.

In future, our negotiations or agreements, be they for market access for our agricultural and non-agricultural products, services, or trade-related aspects of intellectual property, they should focus on our overall development and poverty eradication strategies.


Your Excellencies;
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen;

In Africa today, we recognise that trade and investment, and not aid, are pillars of development.

We are all turning to trade as the engine for our growth and development after many decades of donor-aided development that failed to make an impact on our economies, mainly because it was not aimed at building a basis for market-driven economic growth anyway.

It has instead created an aid dependency cycle from which many have failed to extricate themselves.

Let me hasten to point out here that, as we seek to dismantle barriers to our trade with the developed countries, we should not lose sight of the fact that these same barriers, which take the same form of crude protection, exist even in our backyards and in our neighbourhood.

We can never begin to integrate with the world economy successfully, if we do not develop effective intra-Africa trade first.

We cannot claim better access to the markets of developed countries if we do not allow free movement of goods and services across our African borders and move towards achieving a borderless Africa.

I would like to acknowledge, at this juncture, the significant efforts made by African Regional Economic Communities such as COMESA, ECOWAS, SADC, AMU and ECCAS in laying the groundwork.

However, they need refining and need to address the issues of tariffs and non-tariff barriers, which have a detrimental effect on fellow African countries.

Regional Economic Communities are a good means to a good end, and the end is the African common market.

Building on these existing common markets, we would empower African countries to position themselves well in matters of trade with their counterparts in Europe, Americas and Asia.

This latter group are at their final stages of integration, a process that we on the African continent cannot afford to delay.

Other pertinent issues that have a bearing on African trade that you may wish to consider include:

  • First, the need to enhance Africa's ability to export quality and quantity, including the use of ICTs, and to enhance diversification;

  • Second, capacity building so that Africa can effectively participate in the international trading system;

  • Third, gender issues and empowerment of women through trade; and

  • Fourth, involvement of other stakeholders in trade for development: Government, international organizations, the private sector and civil society.


Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen;

I recognise the efforts made by Trade Ministers to conclude negotiations for ACP-EU Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), but there is a need to create a strong coordination mechanism to monitor the whole negotiation process so as to benefit all member countries.

The ongoing negotiation process for post-Cancun strategy and the way forward for implementation of WTO Doha Development Agenda demands serious attention.

I am aware that serious negotiations and consultations have taken place in many ministerial and expert meetings.

But we need to come up with a position that is inclusive so that a conclusion is reached from such negotiations in the best interest of all those concerned.

Most importantly, I would like to urge you to take action.

We have talked too much; it is now time for action.

Things must start to happen if we want to achieve what we want.

We need to consolidate progress made in various fora, meetings and consultations, on this round of negotiations after the failure of Cancun.

We need to chart out an appropriate strategy that is flexible, accommodative, and shows the way forward for the Continent in matters of trade.

AGOA and “Everything but Arms” are of special interest and benefit to the African people.

They have been a right step in the right direction.

This meeting should come out urging the US to renew AGOA beyond 2008.

Let me conclude my remarks by reiterating that Africa needs to be part of the global economy, and trade is the instrument to achieve this.

And that Africa can only hope to integrate with the world economy and attain economic transformation if it creates a conducive policy environment, attractive to both local and foreign investors.

This comes with a number of other necessary reforms which encourage good political and economic governance.

These include putting in place the rule of law; building modern economic institutions; strengthening institutions that promote transparency and accountability; eradicating corruption, investing in education; improving public health, and, most importantly, investing in infrastructure.

I am pleased to note that with NEPAD, many African countries are taking these reforms very seriously and we are determined to beat dependency and despondency.

What we are looking for is an even playing field so that we are able to capitalise on our potential, our resources and our capacities.

This is how we will fashion our destiny, and meet the needs of the African people.

Finally, I wish to thank all the people who have contributed to the organization of this conference, especially the EU for their financial support, and thank you once again for having chosen Rwanda as its venue.

I hope that we will be able to meet, or even exceed your expectations in providing a conducive environment for the success of your deliberations.

It is my pleasant duty now to declare this conference open.

Thank you.