Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Kenya hosts first Regional Dialogue on WTO Accessions for the Greater Horn of Africa


Kenya hosts first Regional Dialogue on WTO Accessions for the Greater Horn of Africa

Kenya hosts first Regional Dialogue on WTO Accessions for the Greater Horn of Africa
Photo credit: WTO

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kenya, the University of Nairobi and the WTO opened the first Regional Dialogue on WTO Accessions for the Greater Horn of Africa on 28 August in Nairobi, with the focus on regional integration and strengthening the multilateral trading system. The Regional Dialogue continues up to 30 August.

Initiated and hosted by the Government of Kenya, this event is specifically tailored for acceding governments in the Greater Horn of Africa region – Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and Comoros. South Sudan is also participating in the Dialogue, as it is planning to submit its application for WTO membership shortly.

The Regional Dialogue on WTO Accessions was jointly opened by: Amina Mohamed, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs; Professor Peter Mbithi, Vice-Chancellor, University of Nairobi; and Maika Oshikawa, Officer in Charge of the WTO’s Accessions Division.

Ambassador Mohamed said: “The conference provides us with the opportunity to reflect on ways in which the WTO membership can foster regional integration and cooperation. This is crucial considering that the priority of the continent is to deepen and intensify regional economic integration… The accession of the sister countries in the region will directly contribute to the smooth finalization of the negotiations and ultimately promote intra-African trade which is extremely low compared to other regions of the world.”

Ms Oshikawa, in her opening remarks, noted this was the first initiative by an African country for African accessions. “Today, 8 out of the 21 countries seeking WTO membership are African… The Greater Horn of Africa constitutes one of the largest concentrations of countries outside the WTO.”

“This Regional Dialogue is not only a noble African contribution to strengthening the multilateral trading system, but also, it is very timely,” she added. “Accession activities from this region – Comoros, Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia – have intensified since the Nairobi Ministerial Conference, especially since the second half of 2016.”

Professor Mbithi conveyed the support of the University of Nairobi for acceding governments in the Greater Horn of Africa region: “The acceding countries are Kenya’s immediate neighbours and we expect to see more cross-border trade in goods and services, and increased demand for skilled human resources. The University of Nairobi is ready to play its rightful role of training requisite manpower for our region.” Professor’s Mbithi’s opening remarks are available here.

Over 80 participants attended the opening ceremony, including five ministers from African acceding governments and acceded members, representatives of the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the University of Nairobi. Several development partners also joined the event, namely, the representatives of the African Development Bank (AfDB), the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Executive Secretariat for the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD), the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the World Bank Group (WBG).

The programme of the event is available here, where all presentations and interventions will be posted. The Regional Dialogue will be followed by a two-day Specialized Training on WTO Accessions for Somalia and South Sudan. South Sudan’s participation in both events is funded by the EIF.


Africa has emerged as an increasingly important player of the multilateral trading system. Africa’s active participation has been most evident in the Tenth WTO Ministerial Conference (MC10) held in Nairobi, Kenya in December 2015. Today, one quarter of the WTO's 164-membership is African. These include Cabo Verde, Seychelles and Liberia, which acceded to the Organization pursuant to Article XII of the Marrakesh Agreement.

While this is significant, several are still outside the WTO. Currently, 8 of the 21 countries in the queue for WTO membership are from the African continent, and several lie within the Greater Horn of Africa: Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan. This region is also host to two countries which are yet to seek WTO membership – Eritrea and South Sudan, in addition to the two original WTO members (Djibouti and Kenya). Comoros, another country in the process of accession, is located south to the region.

The Tenth WTO Ministerial Conference (MC10), held in Nairobi, Kenya in December 2015, laid the foundation for a stronger multilateral trading system for all the Members. More specifically, MC10, which was the first WTO Ministerial Conference held in the African continent, has stimulated a dynamic shift in African accessions, in addition to the successful conclusion of the accessions of Liberia and Afghanistan, both post-conflicts LDCs.

On the margins of the MC10, the Fourth China Round Table was held to reflect and exchange views on the role of Africa in the future of the multilateral trading system, as well as the support for WTO accessions, especially for LDCs.

Since the Ministerial Conference, several African countries have reaffirmed their commitment to accede to the WTO. In particular, since the second half of 2016, Comoros and Sudan have been proactively engaged in their respective accession processes by adopting an ambitious roadmap towards early conclusion.

More recently, Ethiopia has expressed its readiness to resume its accession process, following several years of inactivity. Somalia, which formally started its accession process with the establishment of the Working Party in December 2016, has recently appointed a chief negotiator and a technical team and expressed its readiness to start the technical work. Moreover, South Sudan has conveyed its intention to submit an application for WTO accession shortly.

It is in this context that a Regional Dialogue on WTO accessions is being held for the Greater Horn of Africa. 

This Regional Dialogue will offer a platform to: (i) exchange experiences and lessons learned from the accession processes in the region; (ii) reflect on ways in which WTO membership can foster regional integration and cooperation; and (iii) mobilize support for facilitating and accelerating African accessions.


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