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    Expanding Africa's Role in World Trade


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2005

    Photo: ITC This workshop gathered officials from trade ministries, TPOs, associations for textiles, agro-products and services, and a young entrepreneurs' group.

    How can African countries build the expertise to promote their interests more effectively in trade talks and derive gains from the trading system? The three Geneva-based trade development organizations ­- ITC, UNCTAD and WTO­ - are working together to boost countries' abilities to play a more active role.

    When African trade ministers met in Tunis in October 1994, they had a problem on their collective minds. Just six months earlier, most had joined over 100 colleagues from around the globe in Marrakech to sign the Final Act of the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

    Already they were realizing that, from Africa's perspective, while membership in the international trade community was a step forward, the agreements reached in that eight-year negotiation left much to be desired.

    Compliance is difficult

    Farmers and business people all over the continent were pointing to the potential damage to incomes from opening long-protected markets to goods and services from the developed world, as well as from new restrictions on state support for their own export industries.

    Certainly, most African countries lacked the 40 years of experience of their developed-country partners in negotiating multilateral trade accords. Yet government leaders were still convinced that trade was vital for the continent to build up the wealth needed for its development goals. So they took two approaches. On the one hand they instructed their representatives at the GATT - which in January 1995 became the World Trade Organization (WTO) - to seek renegotiation on some details of the Marrakech accords. On the other, they resolved to be better prepared for future trade negotiations and engage more actively in the intricate day-to-day discussions at the WTO in Geneva. That last resolve translated, at the Tunis conference, into a request to the international community and three global trade-related organizations for help in building Africa's technical capacity for deeper involvement in the world trading system.


    The heads of the organizations - ITC, UNCTAD and WTO - heard the appeal. At UNCTAD IX in Midrand, South Africa, they announced they would work together - for the first time on such a project - to shape a response. "It took time to get the concept right," says Abdelkrim Ben Fadhl, the Coordinator of the tri-agency programme.

    "It is not simply a question of joining the club and understanding the rules," adds Hendrik Roelofsen, ITC's Director of Technical Cooperation Coordination. "Countries need the capacity to take advantage of the new opportunities. Without products and services that meet international standards, and without targeting the right markets and being able to deliver, countries can't export."

    In late 1998, the agencies launched the Joint Integrated Technical Assistance Programme or JITAP. Eight countries were chosen - Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Tunisia and Uganda - to be the trail-blazers over a four-year period until 2002.

    The donor community and the agencies established a framework covering all eight nations to steer a Common Trust Fund - which ITC administers - as the central source of financing.

    After a successful first phase that ended in 2002, a new phase was started associating eight more countries: Botswana, Cameroon, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Mauritania, Senegal and Zambia. The original eight countries were granted a further two-year "consolidation period" before they would have to stand on their own. Currently, each agency takes the lead in at least one area of the programme. A prime focus for UNCTAD is helping to create national negotiating capacity by setting up inter-institutional committees. WTO leads in strengthening countries' knowledge base on the global trading rules that it administers by establishing reference centres and enquiry points. ITC focuses on building export capacity by helping countries develop trade in product and service sectors where they have a competitive advantage. Under the joint leadership of the three agencies, a Coordination Unit helps build human capacity by training professionals, encouraging networking and establishing in each country a core group of experts.

    A long-term view

    Specialists from ITC, UNCTAD and WTO delivered regional training programmes to build up a reserve of local graduates who could eventually take over the educational, information dissemination and awareness-building roles.

    "JITAP is primarily about capacity building," says Lakshmi Puri, Director of the Division on International Trade in Goods, Services and Commodities at UNCTAD. "However, we always made it perfectly clear that the aim was not to improve Africa's trade performance and potential just for the sake of trade but rather to create a powerful tool for the continent to achieve its prime development objectives, above all poverty reduction."

    National ownership for sustainability

    For Mr Ben Fadhl, insistence that beneficiary countries themselves make a financial and political commitment to the long-term success of JITAP is a key element of the programme's strategy.

    They have to pledge a significant part of the funds necessary to establish and maintain the national institutions that they need for succeeding in the multilateral trade area. Many have done so, and further progress in this area is expected. Alongside the information, reference and training centres, these include inter-institutional committees and coordination bodies bringing together different ministries, the business sector, non-governmental organizations and academia.

    "National commitment is essential to ensure the sustainability of the institutional, human and enterprise capacities built when countries graduate," says Mr Ben Fadhl.

    "We have emphasized that this is a partnership between the agencies, the countries and the donors," he continues. "Under JITAP-II, the countries have drawn up their own project documents, setting out what they need to do and how they are going to do it, with a budget. So they know that it depends on them whether they succeed or fail."

    Beneficiaries see progress

    "When we started, we had very few people who understood international trade rules," says Wajdi Khemakem, Director for relations with WTO at Tunisia's Ministry of Trade. "But through JITAP we have been able to build up a good reserve of specialists, including myself. It helped us develop new export sectors, like olive oil and mechanical engineering. And without the programme we would have been very stretched indeed to ensure that our own trade laws and customs practices were reshaped to conform to WTO standards."

    At a JITAP Management Meeting in Geneva in December 2004, other countries in the first intake echoed Mr Khemakem's enthusiasm. "It has been a job well done," said Peter Elyetu Elimu, Principal Commercial Officer at Uganda's Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry. "We have largely met our capacity-building targets, we have a proper trade policy mechanism and our own national standards body, and we are working with the private sector to shape a national export strategy. We have brought international trade into university courses, and there is already a good crop of graduates moving into the public sector and into private business."

    Ben A. Peasah, Principal Commercial Officer at Ghana's Ministry of Trade and Industry said know-how acquired through JITAP had enabled his country to bring much of its legislation on tariffs and goods valuation, as well as laws on trade-related intellectual property, into line with WTO rules. JITAP-supported efforts to expand Ghana's export trade had certainly contributed to job creation in the country.

    In Kenya, confidence is high that the system created under JITAP can be sustained when the country graduates at the end of this year. "We have reinforced the Kenya Export Promotion Council and created a WTO division at the Ministry of Industry and Trade," said Elijah Manyara, Deputy Director at the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Fifteen people - largely JITAP-trained - work full-time on WTO issues and three more are with Kenya's Permanent Mission in Geneva. "We have managed to sensitize our parliament to the importance of trade issues, and there is firm commitment at the highest level to sustain what we have created," says Mr Manyara.

    An evolving programme

    Canada, which has pledged 7 million Canadian dollars (US$ 5.8 million) of the US$ 12.6 million donor budget for the four years of JITAP-II, is very happy with the new programme, says Brian Proskurniak, the project's leading official at the Canadian International Development Agency. "The design of JITAP-I assumed an existing capacity that was not actually present in all the eight original countries. But the fact that JITAP-II has been drawn up by the beneficiary countries themselves, with local realities taken fully into account, makes it for us a very exciting development plan. It underscores the importance of African countries taking control of their own destinies."

    For WTO Deputy Director-General Dr Kipkorir Aly Azad Rana, an early sign of JITAP's success emerged at the trade body's Ministerial Conference in Cancún in September 2003. Amid strong divergences between richer and poorer countries, the meeting failed to provide the hoped-for breakthrough in the Doha Development Agenda, launched at the end of 2001 with the aim of building on the Uruguay Round and intensifying the global liberalization process. However, Dr Rana argues, JITAP played a role in ensuring that key delegations from Africa went to Cancún well briefed and ready to play an active role.

    For the 16 countries, the few months before the next WTO ministers' conference in Hong Kong, China in December 2005 will be busy. Following agreement at the WTO in July 2004 on the direction negotiations in the round must take before then, hopes are rising that the conference could see deals pointing the way to a successful conclusion of the talks - with a new treaty updating the Marrakech Final Act - in 2006. "The focus is on preparing for negotiations," says Bonapas Onguglo, Chief of the Director's Office at UNCTAD's Trade Division.

    Whatever emerges from the Hong Kong gathering, trade officials say, negotiations will continue in one form or another, and there will be a clear need for a programme like JITAP in Africa for a long time to come.

    For more information, see the JITAP web site:http://www.jitap.org

    Robert J. Evans is a freelance writer and media consultant based in the Geneva region. He specializes in trade and WTO issues.