DDG Zhang: Both AfCFTA and WTO are important to support Africa’s growth and prosperity

DDG Zhang: Both AfCFTA and WTO are important to support Africa’s growth and prosperity

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

DDG Zhang: Both AfCFTA and WTO are important to support Africa’s growth and prosperity

Trade is a fundamental driver of growth, and both the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the WTO are key to helping African countries achieve economic prosperity, Deputy Director-General Xiangchen Zhang noted on 7 September at a conference organized by 13 African members of the WTO Chairs Programme. He called on the chairs to support the implementation of outcomes of the 12th Ministerial Conference and expressed the hope that the chairs can “provide great insights on interactions and complementarities between the WTO and the AfCFTA”.

The two-day event (7-8 September), entitled " AfCFTA: Challenges and Opportunities", was jointly organized by the University of Mauritius, North-West University (South Africa), University of Tunis (Tunisia), University of Nairobi (Kenya), Université d’Abomey-Calavi (Benin), Cheikh Anta Diop University (Senegal), University of Rwanda, Cairo University (Egypt), National University of Lesotho, University of Yaounde 2 (Cameroon), Université Mohammed V Rabat (Morocco) and Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia). In addition to many academics from universities in Africa and overseas, the programme featured also high-ranking officials from governments and regional organizations, such as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mauritius Alan Ganoo.

DDG Zhang's full remarks are below.

WCP African Regional Conference on 'AfCFTA: Challenges and Opportunities'

Welcoming Address:

Honourable Minister Mr Alan Ganoo, Minister of Land Transport and Light Rail and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and International Trade, Mauritius, Distinguished professors, WTO Chairs Holders, Members of the WCP Advisory Boards, Representatives of various WTO Chairs in Africa and WCP research and knowledge network, Representatives of the Donors community, invited guests and experts, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

It is a great pleasure to join you for this WCP Virtual International Conference on International Trade and Investment with Special Theme on 'AfCFTA: Challenges and Opportunities'.

I would like to start by thanking the organizers, all the African Chairs holders and your team, for the efforts to bring together academics from more than 13 African countries and come with such an impressive conference programme.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Chairs Programme is an important and integral part of WTO's biennial technical assistance plan. This Programme aims to promote global research on trade issues, build up interactive relationship between policy makers, research institutions and national stakeholders, and train new generations of trade experts who will provide strong expertise in evidence-based trade policy formulation and implementation.

The Programme supports developing and least developed countries' trade-related capacities by partnering with universities to provide tailor-made research which would be integrated into the policymaking processes. As such, I welcome this international Conference and I am particularly pleased to note that this conference is jointly organised by the 13 African Chairs. This represents 1/3rd off the total Chairs which compose this worldwide network. This is the first time since the WTO Chairs Programme exists that we have such a continental research initiative from the WCP knowledge network.

I would also like to reiterate my gratitude to our donors for their continuing support for the Programme – in particular Australia, Austria, France and Korea whose invaluable contributions and participation in the Chairs Programme have made this research, training and knowledge network an effective, inclusive and worldwide one.

This first ICITI 2022 tackles an important issue related to African continental trade integration and the role of trade to support inclusive growth. Since the Boosting Intra-African Trade initiative and the implementation of the AfCFTA, African countries have launched an important signal to the world: trade is a fundamental driver to growth, a key determinant to support economic transformation and shared prosperity. Both the AfCFTA and the WTO are important to help African countries achieving these goals.

As you may recall, WTO members successfully concluded the 12th Ministerial Conference in Geneva last June and agreed on a series of key trade initiatives. The conference recalled the critical role of the WTO in providing responses to global challenges and multiple crises such as food insecurity, the COVID-19 pandemic and future pandemics. An important result was certainly the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies which prohibits certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing and addressees specifically the SDG 14.6. The MC12 package has important ramifications for the sustainability of the multilateral trading system, and I take this opportunity to also encourage Chairs to work on both the implementation of the MC12 outcomes and the unfinished agenda.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, as you know, the WTO African Group is composed of no less than 44 WTO Members and 9 WTO observers; and, it is important that the Members of the WTO African Group can also benefit from evidence-based applied research that could support and facilitate the resolution of trade issues and consensus on negotiating positions among the Group. It is equally important that the WTO African Chairs contribute to develop the technical capacities and support the generation of new trade experts.

This WCP African network is now composed by the University of Mauritius (Mauritius), North-West University (South Africa), University of Tunis (Tunisia), University of Nairobi (Kenya), Université d’Abomey-Calavi (Benin), Cheikh Anta Diop University (Senegal), University of Rwanda (Rwanda); Cairo University (Egypt), National University of Lesotho (Lesotho), University of Yaounde 2 (Cameroon), Université Mohammed V Rabat (Morocco) and Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia). We are planning to launch new call for applications to select new additional Chairs and I encourage interested universities in Africa to consider applying to become a WTO Chair. Stay tuned.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, when I spoke at the official launch of the WTO Chair in Cameroon some months ago, I indicated in my opening remarks my expectation to see the WCP network serving as a catalyst and enabler to support regional research initiates and South-South partnerships, and to stimulate joint research initiatives such as those your conference is going to discuss thoroughly. I was not anticipating that the 13 African Chairs would get together so expeditiously and so methodically with a very detailed, comprehensive, well designed and ambitious research conference. Congratulations!

Indeed, the research agenda and conference programme you have designed aims to provide a forum not only for academics working on issues related to Africa, AfCFTA and developing countries in general, but also for policymakers from governments in the region who can discuss and deliberate on the implications, benefits, challenges and opportunities of the AfCFTA and how the AfCFTA could be a game changer for trade in Africa. We do believe at the WTO that a strong AfCFTA contributes to support the multilateral trading system.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, the various topics included in your conference programme provide great insights on interactions and complementarities between the WTO and the AfCFTA, its impact on economic development and the role of trade to support resilient recovery and better inclusion into the multilateral trading system. Topical issues of interest to the WTO are incorporated in the conference agenda, such as trade and climate change, intellectual property rights and TRIPS-waiver-related issues, trade and food security, trade and gender, SMSEs, digital economy, export diversification, market access, trade in services, trade disputes, to name just a few.

I am pleased to note that 34 research papers and 1 policy roundtable will structure this international conference. The conference is a good illustration on how the regional WTO Chairs network could also support policy makers and government officials dealing with the trade policy formulation and implementation in various regions. Let me also take this opportunity to thank the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and its African Trade Policy Centre for the strong support you have provided to support WTO African Chairs. We are looking forward to enhancing this partnership with regional economic commissions of the United Nations. I would also like to thank the AfCFTA Secretariat and the International Trade Centre for their participation in this dialogue. One important pillar of the WCP is dissemination and outreach events and I welcome such high-level policy dialogue which in return could contribute to generate new ideas and new research areas of interest.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is noteworthy that all African Chairs selected under the WCP third phase have planned to develop applied research and specific outreach events geared towards analysing the impacts of the AfCFTA on boosting internal and external African trade, but also providing legal and economic analyses on many areas related to the work of the WTO. The WTO Secretariat is closely monitoring the ongoing deliverables of those Chairs and encourages that relevant outcome could be shared with the Members in general.

What I consider particularly encouraging and enlightening is the Doctoral programmes school that the African Chairs are organizing. This is fully in line with the spirit of the WCP which is first and foremost a capacity building programme, and building the skills of next generation of trade experts is exactly what we want to achieve with this trade-related technical assistance project.

Indeed, 11 research projects from PhD students will be presented and I am looking forward to receiving the conclusions and recommendations of such promising research. I also invite the interested PhD students to consider spending some of their research time in the WTO Secretariat. Indeed, the WTO Support Programme for Doctoral Studies managed by the Knowledge Management Division under the leadership of Dr Zdouc aims to support the development of academic expertise on WTO issues in developing countries. We invite doctoral students from developing countries and least developed countries to conduct research at the WTO and provide students with mentoring in close collaboration with the students' academic supervisors.

The WTO is a knowledge-driven Organisation, and we count a lot of your innovation, creativity and expertise to generate knowledge and technical expertise to support the WTO membership.

I wish the event a great success. Thank you very much.