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SA leads AU trade ministers in discussions on WTO issues

PRETORIA, September 19 – South Africa’s Minister of Trade and Industry Dr Rob Davies and Deputy Minister Bulelani Magwanishe have returned from Ethiopia where they attended the Informal Meeting of African Union Ministers of Trade on World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The meeting took place at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, on Monday.

The meeting, which was jointly hosted by the African Union Commission and the South African government, was chaired by Minister Davies and aimed to consolidate Africa’s positions ahead of the WTO Mini-Ministerial Meeting to be held in Marrakech, Morocco, in October, with the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference to be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in December.

According to a statement from the dti, the Informal meeting in Addis Ababa provided an opportunity for AU Ministers of Trade to consider recent developments in the negotiations at the WTO and to formulate positions on priority issues for Africa in the current Doha Development Round, and on new issues currently being proposed in the WTO, such as e-commerce and investment facilitation.

In his opening statement, Davies stated that there remained a level of ambiguity regarding the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) in the WTO since there are some countries that are challenging the existing mandate. Davies said that there are a number of proposals on subjects under consideration in the WTO, such as domestic support, that moves away from the principles agreed under the DDA.

“We also have new issues being proposed such as e-commerce, investment facilitation and transparency, which entail new rules. We need MC11 to reaffirm multilateralism in our rule-making, but one that considers a common set of challenges and looks at higher levels of inclusive growth and not one where some members are more equal than others,” said Davies.

Magwanishe advanced South Africa’s positions in the meeting and welcomed the analysis from the South Centre and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), as well as the support extended to African countries to develop and defend policy positions of developing countries ahead of MC11.

“This is particularly important in view of Africa’s development and economic growth aspirations, as espoused in the African Union’s Agenda 2063,” said Magwanishe.

Magwanishe further reaffirmed the need for a multilateral trading system that supports the industrial development imperatives of African economies and provides the necessary policy space that will allow countries to implement the needed measures for structural changes to their economies to ensure sustainable and inclusive growth.

“The preservation in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) of policy space for industrial development, therefore, is a key priority for South Africa and developing economies,” added Magwanishe.

Davies says the Informal Meeting of African Union Ministers of Trade reaffirmed the importance of concluding on the outstanding the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) issues.

“On the new issues being proposed for rule-making in the WTO the meeting agreed that there was no negotiating mandate on the new issues. It is premature to consider multilateral rules on e-commerce and in the view of South Africa, priority should be given to cooperation, addressing the digital divide and exploring options for promoting digital industrial policy,” said Davies.

On Investment Facilitation (IF) and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), the ministers agreed that rules on Investment Facilitation and MSMEs are not aligned to Africa’s programmes but primarily intrude into domestic policy and regulation.

The outcomes of the meeting and a draft Declaration on the WTO issues are expected to be considered by a formal sitting of the AU Ministers of Trade prior to MC11.

– African News Agency (ANA)

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