It’s time for African countries to shape the WTO: Opinion

2024-01-31 22:08:10
It’s time for African countries to shape the WTO: Opinion

At the 50th anniversary celebration of the origins of the international trade system in 1998 in Geneva, Nelson Mandela in his speech said: “The developing countries must accept that we want to be fully part of the WTO, and that includes improving the management of the world trading system to ensure that our economies do develop.”

This was an important message. The World Trade Organization (WTO) had evolved from the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) – on African soil, in 1994 in Marrakesh. Mandela’s view remains important in the context of the now-30-year old WTO’s 13th biennial Ministerial Conference, in Abu Dhabi, UAE, from 26-29 February.

Currently, 44 African countries are members of the WTO, with nine further countries holding “observer status”; only two are not affiliated with the WTO at all. African countries currently account for 27% of full members. Notably, the vast majority of these countries joined the WTO before China, which became a member in 2001.

Despite this, not much has changed for Africa within the world trading system over the past 30 years. If anything, it has worsened. In 2023, the African continent accounted for 2.7% of world exports. Back in 1973, that share was 4.8%. Meanwhile, the continent’s share of world imports is higher than exports today at 2.9%, but in 1973 it was lower at 3.9%.

Over the decades since world trade rules were introduced, the continent has fallen into a persistent trade deficit with the rest of the world. A significant reason for this is the character of the rules. The WTO is much like its predecessor, the GATT. That was designed and agreed by 23 countries in 1947, none of which were African – at the time most African countries were still colonies.

Read full article at African Business


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