DDG Agah welcomes Benin’s University Abomey Calavi into the WTO Chairs Programme

Inauguration of Benin’s University Abomey Calavi into the WTO Chairs Programme

Monday, November 24, 2014

Deputy Director-General Yonov Frederick Agah officially launched the WTO Chair awarded to the University of Abomey Calavi in Cotonou on 24 November. He expressed confidence that “this Chair will contribute to train a new generation of experts on trade policy and will benefit from the Chairs network”.
Your Excellency Mr François Adebayo Abiola, Minister of State, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research,
Your Excellency Mrs Françoise Assogba, Minister of Industry, Commerce, Small and Medium Enterprises,
Your Excellency, Mr Antonin Dossou, Minister in charge of public policies evaluation and programmes of denationalization,
Dear Professor Amoussouga Gero Fulbert, incomer WTO Chair holder,
Honourable Rector, Deans, Professors and Members of faculties of the University of Abomey Calavi,
Dear Ambassadors,
Dear Colleagues from the United Nations system and representatives of international organisations accredited in Benin,
Distinguished guests,
Dear students,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have the honour and great pleasure to be here today, on behalf of Director‑General Roberto Azevêdo, to officially launch the WTO Chair recently awarded to the University of Abomey Calavi. The presence of Honourable Ministers and senior members of the Government of Benin at this ceremony is a huge testimony to the importance that your government attaches to WTO work and its technical assistance programmes.
The WTO Secretariat has several programmes aimed at contributing to the development and strengthening of trade policy capacities in its members, including in academic institutions. WTO trade-related technical assistance and capacity-building efforts are an important component of the WTO’s work and contributes to the Aid for Trade work programme.
The main objective of the WTO’s trade capacity-building programme is to enhance the human and institutional capacities of beneficiaries to take advantage of the rules-based multilateral trading system, with priority given to LDC members.
The awarding of the WTO Chair to the University Abomey Calavi is recognition of the university’s commitment to academic excellence, to educate generations of future trade policy experts so as to effectively deal with the challenges of tomorrow. I am humbled at this high level of representation and delighted to address you and to provide some insights about the WTO Chairs Programme, our technical assistance activities and more broadly the international trading system.

The WTO Chairs Programme was launched in 2010 for the benefit of developing countries, with the core objective of supporting academic institutions to enhance their knowledge and capacities on trade-related issues. The spirit of this programme is to support academic institutions and encourage them to develop their work on WTO issues, thus contributing to raising awareness on WTO trade issues and creating a knowledge base that can be used or referred to by policy makers in decision making. The WTO Chairs Programme is structured on three pillars: curriculum development, new research activities, and support for outreach activities.
I am sure you would all agree with me that academics could contribute to helping policy makers to better assess and analyse the likely implications of any trade agreements, thereby developing informed negotiating positions for their countries.
In 2010, following a worldwide call for tenders, 15 institutions were awarded a WTO Chair and of these 14 are still operational across the regions that benefit from WTO trade-related technical assistance. Of these 14, five are in Africa, namely Kenya, Morocco, Mauritius, Namibia and Senegal and with the addition of two new chairs in 2014 (Benin and South Africa) there are now seven WTO Chairs in Africa.
When the first phase of the programme ended in 2013, the WTO decided to launch a second phase. Mainly for two reasons: the first reason is the necessity to keep the momentum and exploit the excellent results generated by the initial Chairs; and of course, the second reason is mainly driven by the success of Phase I and as a result, many countries and academic institutions expressed an interest in joining this programme.
The call for tenders for the second phase was issued in 2014 and 77 institutions applied to be awarded a Chair. The selection process was highly competitive and the Secretariat was supported by an external advisory board composed of 21 international renowned scholars to make the selection process transparent and inclusive. All applications received a very careful review and after this highly competitive, rigorous and exigent selection process, only seven institutions were awarded a Chair and invited to join the WTO Chairs network. This clearly illustrates the quality of the proposal submitted by the University Abomey Calavi.
I am particularly happy to welcome and congratulate the University Abomey Calavi on its selection as new WTO Chair.
The project submitted by the university is particularly captivating. It gives prominence to the development of curriculum on WTO issues and I believe this dimension is particularly interesting. It will contribute to training a generation of students on new trade issues and developments, assisting in the emergence of experts not just here in Benin but also, I believe, at the regional level.
Another captivating element of the proposal was the systemic interaction ensured between the Chair, the members of the team and the policy makers. We at the WTO give importance to this interaction and we strongly encourage this. As a former policy maker who was continuously associated with the implementation and negotiations of trade agreements, I can definitely reaffirm the importance of developing this interaction between policy makers and research or academic institutions.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the WTO membership does not only recognise and reiterate the importance of technical assistance as a key pillar of its activities but also underscores this as a  fundamental element of the development dimension of the multilateral trading system. The current round of negotiations is profoundly development-oriented and it is natural that the WTO Secretariat ensures a solid technical assistance package to its developing and least-developed members.
The partnership between the WTO and the academic community in Benin is not new. Indeed, for four years, Benin and the University Abomey Calavi successfully hosted the Regional Trade Policy Course (RTPC) for French-speaking African countries. This course was very well organised and received excellent feedback from the participants. I therefore see the granting of WTO Chair as a continuation of this longstanding partnership with the WTO. I am confident that you have been able to capitalize on the initial RTPC’s partnership and build a strong team that will manage this WTO Chair effectively.
Ladies and gentlemen, as mentioned earlier, technical assistance is directly linked to our Aid for Trade agenda and as the Deputy Director-General in charge of this portfolio, let me reaffirm here the importance of this component in our activities. From 30 June to 2 July, the WTO Secretariat will be organizing its fifth global review of the Aid for Trade initiative under the theme “reducing trade cost for inclusive and sustainable growth”. The global review is organised in such a way that all actors dealing with trade policy, either at the national, regional or global level, can participate actively in the review, thus encouraging interactions between representatives from all countries, including the private sector and non-state actors.
The WTO Secretariat intends, once again, to organize a specific session for academic partners where interactions between academics and policy makers would be encouraged. I strongly recommend the Chair in Cotonou to start thinking about its contributions. You have concrete experience to share with our membership. For instance, how the implementation of the last reforms of the port have produced tangible results in reducing the cost of doing business. I am sure that this experience could be shared and could provide interesting ideas and lessons for other WTO members or observers.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I wish to thank the Government of the Netherlands for its generous financial support to the second phase of the WCP. This contribution and commitment for the next four years will naturally enable the WTO Secretariat to continue the work started in 2010. I want to reassure our partners that the Secretariat is committed to ensuring that these activities eventually produce the desired results. Having implemented Results Based Management in 2012, we are monitoring and measuring progress made in order to better prioritize the needs and systematically adjust our responses.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me now turn to the world economic situation and more specifically the challenges for the African continent. GDP growth in Sub-Saharan Africa remains robust and is expected to reach 5.5 per cent in 2014. However, uncertainties remain for some countries, especially those confronted with security and domestic political challenges.
Since two years ago, Benin’s economic growth has started to recover and the economic outlook of Benin for 2014 is positive and encouraging. The growth rate is expected to reach some 5.5 per cent compared to the 3.5 per cent in 2011 and 5.4 per cent in 2012.
This growth is mainly driven by an increase in agriculture production. The reforms you have implemented to modernise the port with the objective to increase its efficiency have played a key role in facilitating trade flows and boosting trade. It is therefore not a surprise to see why your country is very active in supporting the finalising of the Doha work programme and more especially the trade facilitation component. Actions speak louder than words and you have shown concretely that reducing the cost of doing trade has direct and positive implications on growth. Now, the challenge is to transform this growth into pro-poor growth and make it inclusive. What I want to underline here is that trade is important for Benin, and Benin is an important supporter of the multilateral trading system and the completion of the Doha Round.
Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali belong to the West African coalition seeking cuts in cotton subsidies and tariffs on agriculture and especially on cotton. Trade in Benin remains dominated by exports of cotton and cotton-related products.
Ministers in Bali stressed the vital importance of cotton to a number of developing country economies and particularly the least-developed ones. They also recalled the necessity to address cotton “ambitiously, expeditiously and specifically” within the agriculture negotiations.
Benin has played a key role in reaffirming the importance of the development assistance aspects of cotton and in particular highlighting the work of the Director-General’s Consultative Framework Mechanism on Cotton in reviewing and tracking cotton-specific assistance as well as infrastructure support programmes or other assistance related to the cotton sector.
I would like to take this opportunity to stress here the important contribution of your experts posted in your mission in Geneva and their active role in the regular committees of the organization. As a former representative of Nigeria to the WTO, I witnessed the high commitment of your experts in Geneva and the key role they are playing in many groupings, including the Africa Group and naturally in the Cotton 4. I would like here to recognize the role played by your former ambassador in Geneva, Ambassador Samuel Amehou, but also the commitment and active participation and support for our work of your current team, led by Ambassador Séraphin Lissassi.
Ladies and gentlemen, it has been generally recognised that gains from trade are not automatic. Economic growth is not the only condition for development but it is one of the main pre-requisites. Complementary domestic policies should accompany the structural transformation of the economy. As far as trade policy is concerned, mainstreaming trade into national development strategies is another pre-requisite in support of a growth strategy that can help countries to be less vulnerable to exogenous shocks.
Many countries in Africa, including Benin, have the opportunity to transform their economies through a commodity-based industrialization strategy that leverages the continent’s abundant resources. This requires adding value to soft and hard commodities. In that respect, the Port of Cotonou plays a key role in your export diversification strategy. A large part of the goods entering the port are destined for delivery outside Benin and according to the African Development Bank, at least 50 per cent of the goods are in transit for regional countries. This illustrates that boosting the activities of the port will increase trade flows not only at the national level but also at the regional one. Benin belongs to both WAEMU and ECOWAS, and intra-regional trade is therefore important for its development. As I mentioned, the government of Benin has started to implement reforms, such as an electronic single-window system integrating customs, and more recently new rules to facilitate the transit of trucks. This has definitely contributed to facilitating trade flows.
The last release of the Doing Business Database shows that Benin has made significant progress, and trading across borders has become faster and easier over the years. Recent data show that exporting a standard container of goods requires seven documents, takes 25 days and costs $1,052. I am confident with the implementation of new reforms that you would significantly improve on this rating.
As our last World Trade Report has shown, overall growth in the aftermath of the 2009 crisis remains volatile and fragile due to persisting geopolitical tensions, and Africa is not isolated.
From a WTO perspective, the conclusion of the current round of negotiations is critical in the global post-crisis strategy, and the monitoring exercise that the WTO is doing under the G-20 has contributed to containing the increase of protectionist measures. The modest progress made at Bali therefore remains important and significant towards achieving this important goal.
Last week, the G-20 summit in Brisbane reaffirmed the critical role of the multilateral trading system and the necessity to finalise the current round of negotiations, especially at a time where the global growth projection for 2015 was recently revised in October 2014 to 3.8 per cent, from the July forecast of 4 per cent.
What leaders said in Brisbane is a clear message that trade matters for growth and at a time where growth is volatile, a stronger multilateral trading system is a pre-requisite to sustain growth. What we need to do now is to start implementing the Trade Facilitation Agreement and deliver all others aspects of the Bali Package and particularly those related to development and of interest for LDCs, including the Ministerial Decision on Cotton. We also need to give priority to developing the post-Bali work programme that would guide us towards the successful conclusion of the Doha Development Agenda.
In conclusion, I wish to recall an African proverb which says “where there are experts, there will be no lack of learners”. I am rather confident that this Chair will produce many experts and will train many learners and leaders. I also have no doubt that the Chair will produce tangible results and will support the interaction between policy makers and academics. More importantly, I am sure this Chair will contribute to training a new generation of experts on trade policy and will benefit from the Chairs network. There is now a network of 21 Chairs all over the world, and Benin is part of it. So you should use it.
I would like also to congratulate Professor Amoussouga Gero Fulbert, the WTO Chair holder and his team. They came with a promising proposal and I am particularly looking forward to seeing the first results. I know that the academic involvement of the Chair’s team under the leadership of Professor Amoussaga will be important.
On behalf of WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo, I have the great honour, privilege and pleasure to award a WTO Chair to the University Abomey Calavi. I thank you all for your kind attention.