Connectivity and inclusiveness highlighted at opening of Aid for Trade Global Review
Continued support is needed to improve connectivity, lower trading costs and increase women’s participation in trade, particularly in developing and least developed countries (LDCs), speakers at the opening plenary session of the Aid for Trade Global Review 2017 said on 11 June. Providing this support will ensure trade contributes further to alleviating poverty and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the speakers said.
“Many factors inhibit connectivity and inclusiveness – whether it’s poor infrastructure, high trading costs, or gender discrimination. And they all act as major constraints on sustainable development. Work to bring down these barriers can go a long way to connect more people and improve more lives,” WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said at the opening of the three-day event.
The biennial Global Review provides a platform for high-level discussions on the Aid-for-Trade initiative, which aims to build the trading capacity of developing countries and LDCs. This year’s Global Review is dedicated to the theme of “Promoting Trade, Inclusiveness and Connectivity for Sustainable Development”.
According to DG Azevêdo, the right infrastructure must be in place to activate trade’s ability to deliver sustainable development. This includes the physical infrastructure of essential roads and ports, the soft infrastructure of rules, institutions and skills that help players take part in trade, and the digital infrastructure to connect people to the global marketplace at lower costs. The Trade Facilitation Agreement, he added, is also a tool that helps cut trade costs, with developing countries and LDCs to benefit most.
“We need to make a difference in all of these areas – and this is why Aid for Trade is so important,” DG Azevêdo said.
Since the Aid for Trade initiative was launched, almost $300 billion has been disbursed for Aid-for-Trade support in 146 developing countries and LDCs, DG Azevêdo said, pointing to data in the WTO-OECD publication titled “Aid for Trade at a Glance 2017”, which was launched at the opening session. A huge body of research, including some 500 case stories, illustrate further the difference Aid for Trade has made, DG Azevêdo added. More on case studies here.
“We should seek to build on these success stories – and many others like them because, clearly, although we have made good progress up the mountain, we are still a long, long way from the summit,” DG Azevêdo said. Read the full speech here.
Connectivity for developing countries, LDCs and women
Gambia’s Vice President and Minister of Women’s Affairs, Aja Fatoumatta Jallow Tambajang, emphasized the need to do more to take advantage of the benefits of trade.
“We believe in trade as an engine for growth and we would like to ensure that the gains from trade are inclusive,” she said in her keynote speech.
“However, we are yet to fully optimize the huge trade potentials that the system has to offer,” she said. “Connectivity is crucial in helping us realize our objectives.”
This is why, she explained, her government is attaching great importance to promoting connectivity, and enhancing the regulatory climate for information and communication technology infrastructure. The Gambia, she added, is also depositing its instrument of ratification of the Trade Facilitation Agreement.
Mukhisa Kituyi, UN Conference on Trade and Development Secretary-General, similarly highlighted the constraints faced by developing countries and LDCs in participating in trade, particularly online.
“At a time when global commerce is going electronic, if you are not visible, you are not existent. You cannot trade out of poverty if you are not in the trading community,” Mr Kituyi said.
In recognition of the importance of electronic commerce, the trade community, he added, is responsible for coordinating efforts and building competencies in poorer countries.
Aside from digital connectivity, physical connectivity remains an important factor for trade, Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said.
“Trade facilitation and the offline infrastructure for trade – roads, ports, and bridges – are ever more important in the digital world,” he said.
Trade’s benefits and efforts to enhance connectivity must also reach women, International Trade Centre (ITC) Executive Director Arancha González said.
“Despite the proliferation of mobile phones there are still far too many, especially women, who are unconnected to the information grid,” she said. “ITC’s research for the ‘At a Glance’ publication shows that women-led enterprises are 12% less likely to use email than men-managed firms which is an important proxy for internet usage.”
A trade agenda which explicitly recognizes and acts on women’s economic empowerment can be a strong force for inclusive growth, she said.
Importance of Aid for Trade
Aid for Trade is critical in addressing connectivity concerns, the speakers said.
“Aid for Trade is central in ensuring benefits from cross-border trade reach women, small firms, entrepreneurs, farmers, everyone everywhere,” Anabel Gonzalez, Senior Director of the World Bank Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice, said.
Moreover, Aid-for-Trade initiatives work best when they are done in a coordinated manner in partnership with all stakeholders, she said.
Speakers from financing institutions likewise highlighted the importance of such partnerships. Officials from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank Group, International Finance Corporation, Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany, and TradeUp Capital Fund spoke of their respective initiatives for connectivity infrastructure and trade capacity building.
“This week is an opportunity to examine precisely where more efforts are needed, and how we can better channel the necessary aid and investment,” DG Azevêdo said.
Download the full text or individual chapters of the Aid for Trade at a Glance 2017 report here.