Statement by the Executive Director at The 9th Ordinary Session of African Union Ministers of Trade
Speech delivered by ITC Executive Director Arancha González
4 December 2014, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured to be here today to participate in the African Union’s (AU) Conference of Trade Ministers. Last year when I addressed you, I was a few months into the role as Executive Director of the International Trade Centre. I pledged to ensure Africa would be placed at the heart of the ITC's interventions. Today almost fifteen months into my tenure I am pleased to report to you the steps we have taken in this direction.
At the beginning of the year we set a target that 60% of our interventions would focus on Sub-Saharan Africa, LDCs and SIDS. Today I can report that we have reached 67%.
We held our 2014 flagship event- the World Export Development forum- in Africa for the first time in our 50 year history. And just last month at the World Trade Promotion Organisation Awards, Zambia and Mauritius were selected as best in their category. I am also pleased to inform that the next host of the WTPO in 2016 is also an African country- Morocco.
The presence of African staff in ITC has increased by 10 % in 2014, including the position of the Deputy Executive Director of the ITC. Africa is the continent that I have most visited in 2014- 12 times in fact - to see exactly what the needs and priorities are on the ground.
One area where we have focused our efforts is in building a strong relationship, not only with individual countries, but also with the regional economic communities and with the African Union Commission. We are working with the AUC and the six RECs to develop complementary projects and programmes in support of your strategy to build a Continental Free Trade Area.
We are approaching this from our specific expertise around six focus areas which we have detailed in our 2015-2017 strategic plan. This week I presented the main elements of this strategic plan to the African group of Ambassadors in Geneva.
One is trade and market intelligence. This is where we are supporting the AUC in the establishment of a Pan-African Trade Observatory.
Two is support for value chain development working with trade policy makers but also with the private sector. Two particular focus areas are Agri-food and services.
Three is support for inclusive and green trade. This is where we support women entrepreneurship- specifically economic entrepreneurship- and youth employment.
Fourth is support to trade and investment promotion organisations and chambers of commerce which are important multipliers of knowledge and technical know how and are important conduits of trade expertise and capacity building for SME competitiveness. This is also why we are supporting the creation of an African Business Council.
Fifth is support for regional integration in particular through implementation of trade facilitation measures, first and foremost those contained in the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement.
Six is helping connect SMEs to international markets, starting with regional ones.
The objective for next year should be to have initiated work with all six regional economic communities and the AUC to implement these priorities and move from commitment to action.
I applaud your objective to create a Continental Free Trade Area. The economic and development dividends of regional integration are substantial and largely untapped in this continent.
But much remains to be done.
First on the tariff area. In a recent research paper we conducted on the potential for regional integration of the ACP, we found that tariffs applied in trade amongst African countries are higher than those applied to trade with other third countries.
Second, is the area of non- tariff barriers which is the chalk that clogs the trade pipes. The first step is to identify these barriers and then discuss them through public- private dialogues before developing a plan to dismantle them. This plan requires serious mechanisms to ensure follow up. This is precisely what we do with our NTB surveys, public-private dialogues and e-platforms.
Chief amongst these NTBs are customs red tape. This is why the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement is important. It fits perfectly with your own vision to foster trade, in particular for SMEs. But it also ensures that the reforms are applied in a comprehensive and synchronised manner by all WTO members.
The key now is implementation, preferably in a coherent manner at the level of the Regional Economic Communities.
We are currently supporting over forty countries to categorise the WTO commitments and for those that require technical and financial assistance, helping to prepare bankable projects. You can count on our technical expertise and know-how to support you in this endeavour, including through dialoguing with potential donors.
But the real drivers of regional integration will be the private sector- SMEs- capable of developing regional value chains through value addition. These SMEs account for 95% of all firms in Africa and contribute close to 60% of the GDP of the continent.
Building SMEs and improving SME competitiveness, helping SMEs access finance and connect to markets will be essential to help them grow through trade. This private sector component is at the very heart of the support that we provide to the Regional Economic Communities.
Let me conclude by thanking you for the opportunity to exchange with you and to congratulate you on the achievement of the plan to launch the CFTA.
You can count on the ITC to be a key supporter and partner in these endeavours.
I thank you for your attention.