In the months since it took office in January, The Gambia's new government has made trade an important part of its plans for growth, job creation, and democratic consolidation.
The country featured prominently at the recent Aid for Trade Global Review at World Trade Organization headquarters in Geneva.
Vice-President Fatoumata Tambajang, Minister of Trade, Regional Integration and Employment Isatou Touray and Minister of Tourism Hamat Bah attended the 11-12 July gathering, which they used to showcase domestic policy reforms and urge aid donors and the private sector to invest in building supply-side capacity in The Gambia.
The International Trade Centre has been working to support The Gambia's efforts to develop trade capacity for inclusive economic growth, with a focus on creating jobs for youth and women. A big part of this is the recently-launched Gambia Youth Empowerment Project (YEP), a four-year initiative, funded by the European Union, to build skills, enable value addition and foster market connections in job-rich sectors such as tourism and agribusiness.
A 12 July roundtable brought together the Gambian leaders, international agencies, and development assistance donors. The meeting was presented with a book of eight potential projects. Some of the projects were economy-wide in scope, dealing with reforms to improve the business environment or to leverage ITC's SheTrades initiative to create economic opportunities for Gambian women.
Others were sector-specific, such as a project to build high-quality fisheries landing and storage capacity, and one to invest in the food safety system so the country's agriculture sector can meet international market standards.
Vice President Tambajang said that the Aid for Trade Global Review came at a moment when 'the new Gambia is taking her rightful place in the global community'. After '22 years of dictatorship and gross mismanagement of our economy', popular expectations for growth and development were high. Developing the country's productive sectors would create jobs, raise incomes, and reduce irregular migration, she said. (In per capita terms, the West African country has one of the continent's highest rates of outward irregular migration.)
Minister Touray stressed the new government's commitment to gender equality, noting that expanding women's access to economic opportunities was critical to making growth inclusive. She described steps the government was taking to update legal frameworks for the trading environment, both at the WTO and at the regional level. The Youth Employment Project 'resonates with everything we are trying to do', she said, pointing to food safety training and other preparations to enable exports and value addition in the country's cashew, groundnuts and honey sectors.
'Young people are coming home voluntarily... with the hope that things have changed,' she added. Diversifying exports and building backward linkages between the country's substantial tourism industry and its farms and crafts sectors would help create jobs both for 8000 young returnees and for women and men in rural areas, she explained.
Ms. Touray told the gathering: 'We are not begging, but we are appealing' for assistance in helping Gambians move forward, both at home and internationally.
Minister Bah said that the country's hospitality training institute needed assistance to train a new generation of hotel personnel, as many skilled Gambians had left for other countries during 22 years of dictatorial rule marked by corruption and institutional decline. He added that establishing a cultural institute would contribute to skills and livelihoods through traditional music, literature, and art.
Muhammed Jagana, who heads The Gambia's chamber of commerce, said the cost of capital to budding Gambian entrepreneurs remained unaffordably high. He hopes to create a national entrepreneurship fund that would provide a capital base for young (and returning) Gambians to start businesses, create jobs and expand the government's tax base.
Marc Vanheukelen, the European Union's ambassador to the WTO, noted that while The Gambia would, as a least developed country, enjoy tariff-free access to the EU market, the real challenges were on the supply side, in terms of producing goods that meet the EU's technical standards.
This chimed with what ITC Executive Director Arancha González said Gambian businesses had been telling ITC: that meeting international quality standards was a challenge, along with limited connectivity.
Mr. Vanheukelen also stressed the importance of regional integration within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a point echoed by WTO Deputy Director-General Yonov Frederick Agah.