Why Africa should not ignore what happened in Buenos Aires
The 11th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), held in Buenos Aires in December 2017, was a disappointment. It has been described in The Economist as “the triumph of self-interest over the greater good”. The meeting concluded without any new deals and no signs that the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) will be adopted as a multilateral package. How serious is the predicament facing multilateralism, and what lessons can be learnt from the Buenos Aires Ministerial? What are the implications for Africa?
This Trade Brief discusses the limited outcomes from Buenos Aires, focusing on the four ministerial decisions – on the Work Programme on Small Economies, Fisheries Subsidies, Electronic Commerce, and TRIPS Non-Violation and Situation Complaints – and the challenges and opportunities Africa is now facing. Irrespective of whether there will be a transformation of global governance or a “hegemonic withdrawal” any time soon, African policy makers need to remain involved, informed and responsive to the needs of the time.
The overall impression about this Ministerial Conference is that the membership of the WTO cannot muster the consensus required for adopting multilateral agreements about important new issues and about the DDA. The challenges are not only about accommodating developing nations. The global economy faces new technological challenges (clustered around the Fourth Industrial Revolution concept) which demand several new disciplines. Should the WTO prove not to be the forum generating new rules for international trade, they will be adopted elsewhere; in regional trade arrangements, through plurilateral agreements, or via domestic regulatory reforms in nation states. This is already happening in areas such as investment, competition and e-commerce.
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