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LDC trade ministers discuss the benefits of WTO membership and the need for effective, well planned technical assistance

15 December 2011
ITC News

Least Developed Countries need to become more active in WTO negotiations to reap the full benefits of accession, need to improve the business environment for small and medium size enterprises and show results to donors, said trade ministers from LDCs at a breakfast meeting in Geneva this morning.

Joining the WTO is just the first step: LDCs need to become active members in order to tangibly benefit form membership, said ITC Executive Director Patricia Francis, who moderated the debate during the Breakfast meeting for Ministers of Least developed countries, a few hours before the opening of the 8th Session of the WTO’s Ministerial Conference. Ministers from several LDCs participated in the discussion that was opened by WTO Director‐General Pascal Lamy.

Multilateralism cannot work without LDC‐s, said H.E. Mr. Abdou Kolley, Minister of Trade, Industries, Regional Integration and Employment of The Gambia. 'Are we active members of the negotiations or are we just standing on the sidelines', he asked, calling on ITC and the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) to work with LDCs after their accession to the WTO to better understand the complex rules of the organization. 'If we remain passive, we are not playing our cards well,' he said.

LDCs may be the weakest members of the multilateral trading system, but they have important resources that developed countries need, and this should help their negotiating position, said H.E. Mr. Robert Sichinga, Zambia’s Minister for Trade and Industry. 'They cannot take what is in our ground without proper compensation' he said.

TRTA for Results

Ministers also discussed the importance of showing results in Trade Related Technical Assistance (TRTA) projects. In the current economic climate, where donor countries face budget cuts, showing that technical assistance delivers impact is more important than ever, Ms. Francis said. 'Those who are providing us with resources need to justify to their citizens why resources are given to us, when they have so many challenges at home' she said.

Several ministers, including from the Central African Republic and Uganda, spoke of results achieved with the help of technical assistance from ITC and the EIF. The study on identifying sectors with export potential has been particularly important to the Central African Republic, Minister of Industry and Trade H.E. Ms Marlyn Moulion Roosalem said.

'Most LDCs suffer from a chronic lack of results,' said Bangladesh’s Trade Minister H.E. Mr. Muhammad Faruk. Results will only materialize if assistance is well planned and the right areas of the economy are targeted for assistance, he said. 'It is, however, easier to talk about need based technical assistance than to identify those needs,' he added.

Thanks to work under the EIF, the Lao PDR now has the structure in place to effectively absorb technical assistance, said H.E. Mr. Nam Viyaketh, Minister of Industry and Commerce. The country has put in place a multi‐donor trust fund for trade and private sector development. Structures are set up for effective coordination of TRTA projects, and the country is now ready to take ownership of these projects, he said.

Increasing the export capacities of SMEs is crucial for economic growth in Uganda, where small firms make up 60% of the economic output and employ 2.5 million people, said H.E. Ms. Amelia Kyambadde, Minister for Trade and Industry. 'WTO membership provides market access, but these  opportunities need to be converted into actual benefits,' she said. 'The key here is to make the private sector, especially SMEs, more competitive.' Development of export‐led growth strategies that will lead to higher economic growth and reduce poverty is crucial, she said, and the private sector needs to be involved in the development of these strategies. For a landlocked country like Uganda improving border crossing for goods and people is also key, she added.

Learning by doing

Ministers emphasized the importance of learning from each other and sharing best practices on TRTA and on how to make the most of WTO membership. 'After having negotiated membership for 13 years, the obvious question is how the long coveted membership in this rule‐based system will serve our needs,' said H.E. Mr. Fonotoe Lauofo, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce, Industry and Labour of Samoa, which is expected to join the WTO later this week.

Mr. Lamy closed the meeting by stating that – after having spent time on awareness – the time has come focus on 'what is happening or not happening on the ground.' 'We are switching the focus of Aid for Trade to implementation,' he said.