Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Message for 2012 from Trudi Hartzenberg


Message for 2012 from Trudi Hartzenberg

2012 promises to be an interesting and challenging year on many fronts. Predictions for the global economy, and perhaps in particular for developed regions such as the European Union, are not optimistic. However it is often during such challenging times that new opportunities emerge, and important lessons can be learnt. What does the euro crisis mean for Africa’s integration agenda, is, for example, an important question.

From tralac’s perspective, developments on the African continent, and in particular as regards the trade and development agenda, do offer opportunities for new initiatives and new approaches. The first phase of negotiations to conclude a Tripartite Free Trade Agreement (FTA), comprising the member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA), are scheduled to begin in February. Each of these regional economic communities and the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) are continuing with their integration agendas; in many cases implementation issues are very much on the agenda. There are also more fundamental issues on their agendas; in the case of SADC, for example, the saga of the Tribunal continues. The uncertainty about the future of this important institution raises also important governance issues. Are countries in our region serious about regional integration and more specifically, are they serious about developing robust rules-based systems of governance? The Tripartite FTA negotiations present a very important opportunity to mark a watershed for Africa’s regional integration, in this regard.

tralac will celebrate its tenth anniversary in 2012. Reflecting on tralac’s first decade of capacity building experience in east and southern Africa highlights several important issues. The Trade Law Centre was established specifically to address the trade law capacity deficit in southern Africa. Following the conclusion of the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations and the establishment of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1995, there was an expectation that the countries in southern Africa would require trade law expertise for effective engagement in this multilateral rules-based trade arena, and to, for example, participate in the dispute settlement process of the WTO.

As tralac started implementing its capacity building programmes, specifically in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), several important issues emerged.

First, we realised that, despite the strong rationale for focusing on trade law capacity building, an inter-disciplinary approach, combining trade law and trade policy (economics), was essential to understand international trade governance matters, and therefore to tralac’s capacity building endeavours. This inter-disciplinary approach recognises that, generally speaking, the law is an instrument used to give effect to particular policy objectives or imperatives. In short, an understanding of the substantive trade policy/economics issues is essential if appropriate and effective rules-based trade governance regimes are to be developed. tralac’s team now has trade lawyers and economists collaborating on capacity building programmes, including research, training and policy dialogue initiatives.

Second, given Africa’s regional integration agenda, it made sense to expand tralac’s geographic focus beyond SADC to include other regional integration initiatives in east and southern Africa; a region characterised by significant overlap of regional economic communities. tralac therefore expanded its regional focus to cover east and southern Africa.

Third, there were expectations that tralac would be working predominantly on WTO matters; it soon became apparent that regional trade matters and trade law and policy issues at national level, pose particular challenges for countries in the region. We have recognised the importance of the quality of the nation states as building blocks for effective regional integration. At national level, key governance issues, such as the nature and quality of institutions for trade policy making, have to be taken into account. tralac’s work programmes therefore incorporate many regional trade programmes and national capacity building initiatives.

Fourth, tralac’s capacity building experience has highlighted that, while technical capacity building (eg training of government officials) is important, this does not always translate into enhanced institutional capacity, and therefore trade-related capacity building must also focus on issues such as the development of capacity to manage existing capacity and to transfer learning within organisations. tralac’s training programmes therefore focus on trade policy/economics, trade law and management to contribute not only to the development of technical capacity in the region, but also legal and institutional capacity.

Our programme for 2012 includes training initiatives; including the launch of a Masters degree programme in trade law and policy, in collaboration with the Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town. The first residential module of this mixed modality programme will take place in July in Cape Town. We will also be offering a range of short training courses, many of which will be tailored to the needs of specific organisations, countries or regional organisations. The flagship event for 2012 will be our Annual Conference, taking place 19-20 April in Cape Town. We will be providing further details on these and other events and activities on tralac’s website.

We look forward to working with you this year and wish you well in all your endeavours in 2012.

Trudi Hartzenberg


Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tel +27 21 880 2010