Annecy — At a retreat of African World Trade Organization negotiators this week, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, Mr. Carlos Lopes said that the benefits of Africa's trade negotiations will be judged against the capacity of international trade to spur a far-reaching transformation of the Continent's economies. The transformation would be capable of providing employment to our youth, and lifting the standards of living of millions of poor Africans. During the two day retreat, participants discussed key multilateral trade issues, including how Africa's integration into the global market can best serve the objective of transforming the Continent's economies. The Mr. Lopes noted that not all patterns of specialization are the same: some leave you entrenched in the production of raw materials in an extractive mode of production reminiscent of the colonial times, while others allow you to gradually exploit the learning by doing, and climb up the product ladder towards increasingly sophisticated goods.
"We should not focus on trade as an end in itself, but rather as a spring board to support structural transformation. A springboard that is all the more necessary, since the majority of African economies represents rather small markets," he said.
Touching on the outcome of the recent agreement achieved at the 9th WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali, Mr. Lopes highlighted some positive elements for Africa such as the revival of the multilateral process, whose relevance had been threatened by the prolonged stalemate of the Doha Development Agenda and by the proliferation of bilateral agreements and the move to plurilateral negotiations.
He, however, stressed that many of Africa's own priorities within the Doha Development Agenda have either remained unsolved - notably on Agriculture and Special and Differential Treatment - or have found only a partial and often non-binding solution as is the case for Duty Free Quota Free market access for LDCs, preferential rules of Origin, and the removal of agricultural export subsidies by developed countries. The retreat is being held in the context of agreed collaboration between the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the African Group through the AU mission in Geneva in response to issues pertaining to the 9th WTO Ministerial Conference of Bali. Over the last year, ECA has provided financial and substantive assistance to the African Group of negotiators, with the aim of contributing towards forging a common regional position. Participants included representatives from WTO, UNCTAD, and International Trade Centre, as well as the South Centre, International Centre for Trade Sustainable Development (ICTSD), and Advisory Centre on WTO Law (ACWL).