Last week, trade officials from across Africa gathered for the Commonwealth African Regional Preparatory Workshop for the WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13). The two-day workshop, held in Kigali, Rwanda, from 15-16 November 2023, addressed key trade challenges facing African countries, including agriculture, fisheries subsidies, WTO reform, and regional trade.
The workshop was a collaborative effort, organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Government of Rwanda, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). It provided a valuable opportunity for African countries to share their perspectives and develop a common negotiating agenda for MC13 and was attended by senior trade and fisheries officials from 20 African countries.
On the importance of intra-Commonwealth trade, Dr Jean Chrysostome Ngabitsinze, Minister of Trade and Industry, Rwanda said:
"I am proud to draw attention to the fact that Rwanda has seen its own trade in goods with the Commonwealth increase by 14% annually since 2017, growing to $2.4bn and thus trade with the Commonwealth accounts for around a third of our total goods trade."
During the workshop, participants discussed a wide range of issues, including the latest developments in WTO negotiations, the challenges and opportunities facing African countries in the global trading system, and the need for African countries to collaborate in promoting their interests within the WTO.
In his opening remarks, Santiago Wills, Director of the General Council and Trade Negotiations Committee Division at the World Trade Organization underscored the significance of African participation in the WTO.
“This event is critical to our MC13 preparations as WTO members fuel and drive the WTO’s work. People across the globe are currently confronting wars and conflicts, the food and energy crisis, climate change and natural disasters, cost of living pressures and development challenges. The need for bastions of stability and predictability and for global cooperation has become even more urgent. As such all eyes are on the WTO and other multilateral institutions to demonstrate our capability to contribute to addressing these challenges.
“Devoted to improving lives, is a phrase from the Commonwealth Charter that is central to the Commonwealth. This is also one of the foundational aims enshrined in the preamble of the Marrakesh agreement establishing the WTO. With a common ethos comes a shared responsibility to deliver for people,” he said.
In his opening remarks Brendan Vickers, Head of International Trade Policy at the Commonwealth Secretariat said:
“Trade is a critical driver of economic growth and development in Africa. It can assist in job creation, poverty reduction, and livelihood improvement. Therefore, it is paramount that African countries hold a strong voice in the global trading system. The Commonwealth benefits from practical similarities: in language, common law, regulatory coherence, business procedures, and large and dynamic diaspora communities. Our ability to leverage these similarities means that, although the Commonwealth isn’t a formal trading bloc, trade costs between Commonwealth countries are 21 per cent lower, on average, compared to trading with non-Commonwealth members.”
The workshop covered a wide range of topics, including:
- Agriculture: On Africa's priority issues in the context of WTO agriculture negotiations and potential outcomes for MC13.
- Fisheries subsidies: Organised in partnership with the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), explored Africa's priority issues in the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement negotiations and outstanding issues, including addressing subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and examined some of the practical issues and challenges related to ratification and implementation of the Agreement, including the use of toolkits prepared by IISD.
- WTO reform: Examining Africa's key interests, issues, and priorities for WTO reform.
- African trade landscape: Exploring key issues, opportunities, and challenges for African countries in better utilising the trade preferences of their continental and global trading partners.
- Digital trade and e-commerce in Africa: Delving into the opportunities and challenges for the growth of digital trade in Africa, including developments in regional and multilateral negotiations ahead of WTO MC13.
- Trade, climate change, and environmental sustainability: On the challenges and opportunities for Africa in addressing climate change and environmental sustainability through trade.
On the topic of fisheries subsidies, Tristan Irschlinger, Policy Advisor, International Institute for Sustainable Development said:
“The issue of fisheries subsidies is an area on which IISD has placed quite a lot of emphasis in its work; we have been very active, throughout the years, in supporting and informing the negotiating process at the WTO. An Agreement has now been concluded, but as we all know, that does not mean that the work on fisheries subsidies is over, so we will continue to work on this issue, to support both the implementation of the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies and the conclusion of additional, broader rules on subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing.”
The workshop successfully brought together senior officials from across the continent to discuss the key issues and support the African Group's negotiating agenda for MC13. It also provided valuable input into the preparations for MC13 and helped ensure that African countries will play a strong and active role in the WTO.
- Learn more about the Commonwealth's work on trade here.