Will African countries make the most of the WTO Ministerial Conference?

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The map of Africa. Image from https://www.1voiceafrica.com/blog/37-amazing-facts-you-never-knew-about-africa/

The year 2015 is almost coming to an end but will go down as one the year that presented Africa, and particularly Kenya, with many firsts as Kenya hosts the first WTO Ministerial Conference in Africa. Earlier on in the year, Kenya played host to GES summit that was graced by the US president, Barrack Obama. Barely a fortnight ago, his Holiness the Pope made his first visit to Africa where he emphasized on the importance of good leadership and equality for humanity. This week, starting from 15th December through to the 18th of this month, Kenya will host the 1oth World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference. Expectations are high that Kenya and Africa at large stand to gain immensely from this historic conference. However, a closer look at the past ministerial conferences paints a grim picture to what one may expect from this year’s meeting. Despite the hype and the hopes nursed by many that this conference will be productive, the following insights point to the fact that Africans are not doing enough to get the best out of the 160-member body that aims at making trade easier for its members and help governments achieve their objectives.

The map of Africa. Image from https://www.1voiceafrica.com/blog/37-amazing-facts-you-never-knew-about-africa/
The map of Africa. Image from https://www.1voiceafrica.com/blog/37-amazing-facts-you-never-knew-about-africa/

More talks and less action

Africans have developed the tendency for talking tough but end up not matching the talks with tangible actions. Whenever ministerial conferences are held, the African states’ representatives talk on the issues of fairness, better terms of trade with the developed states, elimination of barriers and a host of other recommendations but the implementation of these never see the light of the day. The richer countries continue being richer while the developing states take long in the development process.

Trade barriers among the African states

One of the aims of the WTO is to encourage Free Trade Areas (FTAs) to open up the markets for free flow of products and services among the member states. This is an area that the African states are doing poorly considering that there are trade barriers that make it impossible to trade. For example, the East African states are still in the process of opening up their borders for free trade. This is something that ought to have been done by now if the region is to mutually benefit from each other. Waiting to hold such a conference to deliberate on things that the states should have done is pointless. It is high time that this was put into perspective if they are to succeed.

Exporting raw materials

This is an area that the African states have scored poorly. Africans work hard on their farms to produce products for exports only for the finished products to be imported and sold at higher prices than they were exported. For instance, Kenya is known for being a leading coffee and tea exporter but after a while, these products find their way to our shelves priced higher. Ghana produces cocoa only to import chocolates at higher prices. Liberia exports gum only to import plastic materials at higher prices. If the states are to benefit from these raw materials, there should be conscious efforts to have ways of processing them and exporting the finished products.

Failure to trade among themselves

In a world that is rife with competition and unfairness, the best way is to do business is to encourage trade among the states. The African states seem to have confidence in their counterparts and prefer the West and other advanced markets. This eliminates the interaction between African states in terms of business which make them be exploited by the somewhat unfair policies that do not favour the developing countries. To benefit, countries in Africa should encourage more trade among themselves prior to considering other markets.

Dependence on financial grants

Some African states portray the picture that they cannot survive on their own and hence need donor funding or taking loans that only increase the national debt. This dependence has made many donors to shy away from these states or impose regulations and requirements prior to dishing out the money. The debts eat into the countries’ GDP making them dependent on the developed countries.

Failure to trade as a bloc

Countries such as the US and those in the EU benefit the most from the WTO because of the synergy and cohesion they have in their objectives. On the other hand, African states go solo in trade thus they do not have a better bargaining power. This has barred many of them from succeeding as some are oppressed at the international markets. The idea of the united states of Africa that was propagated the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddaffi, was not adopted by the African states.

African countries need to stand together as a block in order to make a difference in how WTO works for them. They also need to work on internal issues that make it hard to trade amongst themselves so that they open up the regional market even as they demand access to international markets. Now that this is the first conference in Africa there is hope that on African soil the continent will get better deals from the WTO. Deals that will not just be discussed, but ratified and implemented as well.

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