Addis Fortune (Addis Ababa)

Ethiopia's Chief Trade Negotiator Cancels WTO Summit Attendance

Photo: Rodger Bosch/MediaClubSA
Container ships in Cape Town harbour.

Ethiopia's chief trade negotiator, Mekonnen Manyazewal, has cancelled his attendance at the Ninth Ministerial Summit of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Bali, Indonesia, at the last minute. The summit is set to open today, December 3, 2013.

No official explanation has been made available for his absence from the global summit on trade, which will be opened by the President of the host nation, Soesilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Up to 13,000 delegates are flocking to the island, from 159 member countries and 25 non-voting observers - a group in which Ethiopia is included. Claiming a status of observer since the Organisation's formation in 1995, Ethiopia is also among the countries to have begun the process of joining the world's trade police - known in the Organisation's jargon as "accession". Yemen is the latest country expected to complete its transition from an observer to fully fledged member this week.

Accession to the WTO is a long and arduous journey that may take as long as 15 years. Ethiopia's bid to join as a full member began in 2003, and the country remains halfway through this journey. It has yet to place its offers on services - one of two crucial documents that enables member countries to negotiate with Ethiopia's trade policy negotiators.

Mekonnen, who is also chief of the National Planning Commission - a newly-established federal agency trying to emulate the one in Indonesia - was scheduled to lead Ethiopia's five-person team of trade negotiators.

Ethiopia's team is, therefore, now led by Menelik Alemu, Ethiopia's ambassador in Geneva; and comprises of Geremew Ayalew, the national technical committee chair of the WTO; Lesanework Zerfu, head of multilateral trade relations at the Ministry of Trade (MoT); and Azanaw Tadesse, counselor for the WTO.

Mulu Solomon, president of the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce & Sectoral Associations (ECCSA), and her Secretary General Gashaw Debebe, who was formerly a negotiator, are also present in Bali.

The Summit, which will close on Friday, is considered important for poor countries such as Ethiopia, because of the issues it is expected to agree on: trade facilitation and food security. However, since summits like this have a history of collapse in the final hours, major negotiators often try to lower expectations.

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