8 October 2015

Africa: World Trade Talks Offer Historic Opportunity for Africa

Photo: WTO/Studio Casagrande
Amina Mohamed, Kenya's Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary. WTO Public Forum 2015
guest column

As world leaders met at the recent United Nations summit to adopt global goals to end extreme poverty in 15 years, a determination to create broader and more participatory development was evident.

That the sustainable goals were created in an inclusive process signals a departure from paternalism, which has in the past characterised global development. The broad participation of diverse groups of countries and people to determine the world's future symbolises a new era of shared responsibility and mutual accountability.

Notable in the goals is the clarity with which they recognise trade as a key element of development, with a target to "increase aid for trade support for developing countries, in particular least developed countries, including through the enhanced integrated framework for trade-related technical assistance to least developed countries."

This December, the world will meet in Nairobi - my capital city - for the 10th World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference. Known as the MC10, the meeting aims at shaping the global trade and investment framework in the post-2015 development agenda.

This being the first time the meeting will be held on African soil, it is a momentous event - a coming of age for Africa. More importantly, by coming to Africa, MC10 signifies inclusivity.

As a continent with the largest share of the fastest growing economies in the world, Africa is a great site for the conference - not just because of our enormous growth potential but also because of the many possibilities the meeting presents.

Even as the continent's economies register strong growth, millions of people remain poor. Many great trade policies suggested and debated over the last decade or so and meant to lift these people out of poverty have stagnated. So the Nairobi meeting should not just be symbolic, it should be substantive in its unequivocal support for poor countries to join the global marketplace.

The meeting should explore more ways of making trade fairer and giving a bigger voice to smaller countries where many poor people live. Peasant farming families in Africa and in the global south generally will look up to the MC10 to create policies that will improve their livelihoods.

The meeting must continue to seek more ways to cushion the poor against unfair trade practices, and it should explore ways of helping the WTO be more agile in helping vulnerable countries manage the effects of disasters.

The Nairobi meeting offers a great chance for the world to entrench the new sustainable development goals. One of the surest ways to achieve that transformation is by promoting fair trade, and the time has come for Africa to take a more prominent seat around the table of trade negotiations.

The poor have invested many of their hopes in MC10 and we have confidence the world will strive to meet those hopes. We welcome hosting in Nairobi the vibrant conversation around how to achieve more for the poor.

Ambassador Amina Mohamed is Kenya's foreign minister, her formal title being Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

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