Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Azevêdo highlights trade role in realizing Africa’s “sheer potential”


Azevêdo highlights trade role in realizing Africa’s “sheer potential”

Azevêdo highlights trade role in realizing Africa’s “sheer potential”
Photo credit: WTO

Director-General Roberto Azevêdo, opening the WTO Public Forum’s second plenary session “Why Trade Matters to Africa” on 2 October, said that trade has an important role in realizing Africa’s “sheer potential”. He said that fully implementing the Trade Facilitation Agreement “will help to integrate Africa – and cut the costs of trade significantly”.

Address by Roberto Azevêdo

Welcome to our 2nd plenary session at the 2014 WTO Public Forum.

As you know, our topic today is “Why Trade Matters to Africa”.

Yesterday we were discussing trade in much broader terms, and yet Africa was a constant theme – in comments from the floor, and from the stage.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that we must integrate Africa into the global economy through open, non-discriminatory and equitable trade.

And in closing the meeting William Ruto, the Deputy President of Kenya, gave a rallying call.

He said: that Africa has the youngest population of any continent; that Africa offers the greatest return on investment; and that it is the fastest growing continent, with 7 of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world.

And so the message that I think many of us took away from the debate, was a sense of Africa’s sheer potential.

And of course trade has an important role in realizing that potential.

This is one reason why African countries are beginning to make their voices heard more and more loudly here at the WTO.  

It is why our Africa members were so active in striking the deal to secure the Bali package at our ministerial conference last year.

And it is why African nations are tearing down barriers so that they can trade more with each other.

In East Africa, for example, they have more than halved the transit time for goods between Mombasa and Kigali. And cut processing costs at the Kenya-Uganda border by $300 per container.

These are the kind of steps which allow businesses to grow and thrive – and in the end these are the kind of steps that will change people’s lives. 

So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when studies show that, across the globe it is the African people who have the most positive view of trade. 

So there is a lot to play for – and a lot to be optimistic about.

But of course there are real challenges too.

Despite the impressive growth, there is still a huge inequality gap. Per capita income in countries in Sub-Saharan Africa is just 6 per cent of the average in developed economies.

And of course when talk we about “Africa”, we are talking about more than 50 countries, each with its own strengths and its own challenges.

A significant proportion of Africa’s growth over the last decade has been supported by high commodity prices.

But of course these gains accrue mainly to the large commodity exporters – and particularly the oil exporting countries. So there are many that are not reached by that growth.

And then there are challenges such as inadequate infrastructure, or limited access to trade finance, or issues of security.

So there’s no doubt that there remains a lot of work to do. And I think there are a number of ways in which the WTO can help.

  • Firstly, the very existence of an international trading system creates a stable, predictable and transparent business environment which supports growth and development in Africa.

  • Secondly, the WTO’s Aid for Trade initiative can play an important role. Over $40 billion dollars was mobilised in Aid for Trade financing in 2012 – with Africa as the largest beneficiary.

  • Thirdly, we can make a big difference by fully implementing the Trade Facilitation Agreement and providing the capacity building assistance that goes with it. This will help to integrate Africa – and cut the costs of trade significantly.

  • Finally, we can help through our negotiations – by making progress on the Doha agenda.

So, I think there is a lot to talk about – and with the help of our guests on the panel, and all of you, that is precisely what we are going to do now.

Again, we have a fantastic panel, chaired by our friend Julie Guichuru. Welcome back Julie.

To her right, it is my pleasure to welcome Minister Axel Addy, Minister of Commerce and Industry from Liberia.

Liberia is currently in the process of joining the WTO. Minister Addy is the Chief Negotiator in that process. So he brings a very interesting perspective. And we are delighted to have him here today.

We are also joined by:

  • Issam Chleuh – Founder and CEO of Africa Impact Group, which is all about investing in positive and philanthropic projects – though I’m sure he can explain it much better than I can – so I’ll leave it to him!

  • Razia Khan, Head of African Macro Research at Standard Chartered Bank.

  • Frank Matsaert, CEO of Trademark East Africa – which is all about supporting trade in that region.

  • And Paul Brenton, Lead Economist and Trade Practice Leader in Africa, from the World Bank.

So we have a very wide range of interesting perspectives here – almost as formidable as the topic itself.

Thank you all for taking the time to be with us today.

I look forward to our discussion.

And with that, Julie, I will hand over to you.


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