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©Neil James Spicer, Creative Commons – Lilongwe, Malawi

Raising Malawi’s voice in trade negotiations

Raising Malawi’s voice in trade negotiations

Commonwealth in action: Hub and Spokes II - Developing Malawi's competitive export economy.

The Hub and Spokes II Programme provides trade experts to national ministries and regional trade organisations to enhance trade capacity in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states. It is a joint programme of the European Union (main donor), ACP Group Secretariat, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie.

Isaac B. Gokah, a trade adviser, has been supporting the Malawi Ministry of Industry and Trade on trade development since 2011. 

Read his blog below:

Officially known as the Republic of Malawi, Malawi is a low-income landlocked country in east Africa, also nicknamed the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’. With a total population of 16.7 million, the economy’s gross domestic product (GDP) is primarily based on services, with the remainder from industry and agriculture.

The level of agricultural employment remains high, with the World Bank estimating that agriculture accounts for 64.1 per cent of total employment (2013). A lot of my work has been devoted to developing/implementing the country’s export strategy, and updating the domestic trade policy, which was a little outdated, to develop a competitive export economy.

At the time of writing this blog, the Malawi trade policy, last updated in 1998, was approved by the country’s Cabinet and sets out a new framework for the use of trade policy as a development tool. It aims to make Malawi a globally competitive export-oriented economy, generating higher incomes and sustainable livelihoods and recognising the role of micro-, small- and medium-sized firms, as well as vulnerable groups. My work focused on designing the initial policy framework and leading on the implementation plan and monitoring and evaluation framework. When implemented, it will help drive structural transformation process in the productive sector and support integration of domestic markets into regional and global markets through global value chains.

In developing the National Export Strategy 2013 – 2018 with other experts, the main aim has been to reduce the widening gap between imports and exports in building domestic capacity. The priority areas we identified are oil seed products, sugar cane products and manufactured products, all of which generate high economic value for the domestic market and have potential to ‘spill-over’ into other sectors and wider gains such as job creation.

For example, data from the Observatory of Economic Complexity shows that raw sugar accounts for USD$46.8 million and groundnuts USD$35.3 million in exports. In developing markets to produce sugar and groundnut products the value to the economy would be increased compared to exporting the raw product. This will lead to greater employment and increase the value of exports. The National Export Strategy remains Malawi’s main trade strategic framework to guide trade policy and resource allocation.

During my time at the Ministry I led the consolidation and prioritisation of trade facilitation measures domestically, given that policy was fragmented across different policy documents and strategies. The resulting ‘Consolidated National Trade Facilitation Action Plan’ included setting up a National Trade Facilitation Committee, which now has oversight on implementation of the action plan. Trade facilitation helps remove obstacles to the movement of imports and exports.

Another initiative I have been working on with other experts is the Malawi negotiation management strategy, which was completed last year after receiving about £300,000 in funding from the Trade Advocacy Fund. As a result, thirty people, both from trade-related institutions and the private sector, have been trained on trade negotiation. This is a vital step for the country to raise Malawi’s voice in bilateral, regional and multilateral trade negotiations, so that resulting agreements reflect Malawi’s domestic priorities.

For more information on the Hub and Spokes II programme, please email the team