Review of trade-related developments in 2014
In some respects the end of 2014 brought some light to a quiet year on the trade front. This Trade Brief reviews some of the trade-related developments of the past year at the global, continental, and regional levels.
As could be expected, the experiences at the global, continental and regional levels were quite varied. There have been concerns in recent years that the multilateral trading system has been heading to a stale-mate. The Doha Development Round of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which started in 2001, had been progressing at a considerably slow pace. Meanwhile, bilateral and regional trade agreements continued to be on the rise, epitomised by negotiations towards two mega agreements involving the United States namely the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the EU, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with the Asia-Pacific region.
In November, a significant breakthrough was reached in bilateral negotiations between the US and India which brought momentum towards conclusion of WTO negotiations on the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), adopted in Bali in December 2013 with the aim of ‘expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods, including goods in transit’. Resultantly, negotiations were effectively concluded and the General Council of the WTO adopted the amendment to the WTO agreement that inserts the TFA, as well as other decisions on public stockholding for food security purposes and post-Bali work.
The breakthrough in negotiations between the US and India was achieved just before the G20 Summit. The previous month, there was another significant development namely the launch of the World Bank’s Global Infrastructure Initiative (GII). This is a multi-year programme that seeks to unlock additional infrastructure financing in the region of US$ 1 trillion annually for developing countries up to the year 2020. The G20 Summit also endorsed the initiative and established its own Global Infrastructure Hub, which will work with the Global Infrastructure Initiative in some of the key activities.
The growing focus on the importance of investing in infrastructure to address supply-side constraints has not only been at the global level, but at the continental level in Africa as well. There has also been a growing recognition of the importance of home-grown solutions, with structural transformation increasingly being at the core of national growth and development plans developed as such. This recognition is now at the centre of developmental efforts and has informed the Common African Position (CAP) on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, adopted by the 22nd Summit of African Union Heads of State and Government held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 21 to 31 January 2014.
Efforts towards establishment of the CFTA significantly gathered pace. A series of meetings were held throughout the year, culminating in the 9th Conference of African Union Ministers of Trade, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 1 to 5 December, 2014. There is now considerable momentum towards the commencement of negotiations towards establishment of Africa’s own mega FTA. The robustness of the institutional framework that will be set up by the end of January 2015 following a High Level African Trade Committee (HATC) meeting will be critical for the effective development of the CFTA within the indicative timeline of 2017 that was set at the beginning of the process.
As 2014 drew to a close, it became evident that 2015 will be a highly important year. Progress that will be attained on the different fronts will be crucial for the trade and development prospects of African countries in the short, medium and long term.
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