25th-27th August, 2015. Nairobi, Kenya.
The African Union InterAfrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) in its effort to improve participation of African countries at the WTO –SPS COMMITTEE meetings and implementation of SPS Agreement has been conducting sensitization workshops. Three workshops have been conducted namely in Harare (2013), Nairobi (2014) and Geneva (March, 2015). The workshops have resulted in increased active participation of African countries at the WTO- SPS committee meeting and improved compliance to the transparency provisions of the SPS agreement.
This report covers activities that were conducted at the fourth workshop, which was held in Nairobi from the 25th-27th of August 2015.Participants included representation from 16 countries namely: Madagascar, Mozambique, Seychelles, Benin, Comoros, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea equatorial, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Zambia and Burkina Faso.
The objectives of the meeting were as follows
- Improve knowledge and understanding by participants of the provisions of the SPS Agreement of the WTO on transparency.
- Improve knowledge and mastering of the main transparency tools (SPS –IMS, SPS-NSS).
- Improve the participation of African countries in the activities of the SPS Committee of the WTO in general and its meetings, in particular.
- Enhance the capacity of the African countries to resolve trade disputes in the SPS domain.
The trainers were national officers who have received training both from AU-IBAR and WTO. Various activities were conducted some of which include the sensitization of participants on the SPS agreement and its key provisions, principles of negotiating, introduction to the SPS information management system (SPS-IMS) and an interactive session in which participants shared their national experiences in the implementation of the transparency provisions of the SPS agreement, challenges and possible solutions.
AU-IBAR emphasised the need for countries to prioritize notifications to the WTO through the NNA and disseminate this information to concerned parties.
Countries lacking NNA were encouraged to establish the notification authorities and seek assistance for technical support from the bureau.
Participants who were privileged to attend the last WTO meeting were requested to share their experiences with the rest of group. The general experience was that the effort by AU-IBAR to improve African country’s participation at the WTO meeting was highly recommended and appreciated as evidenced by the improved coordination and active participation by African countries at the last WTO meeting.
Participants were also urged to pledge commitments on the plan of action they were to implement in order to address the low number of notifications to WTO from their countries before the October meeting in Geneva. The table in Annex 1 shows some of the pledged commitments from the participants.
Proposed African Coordinated Positions for October 2015 WTO SPS Committee
In preparation for the WTO meeting in October participants submitted, topics of discussion which they would like to be included in the agenda for the purpose of Africa speaking with one voice. The following topics were submitted by different countries respectively as shown in Annex 2. Some countries requested for additional time to be able to compile the issues of concern after consultation back home, which was granted and limited to before the deadline which is 2nd October.
The countries were encouraged to submit the issues of concern to the secretariat through their missions in Geneva and also inform their missions in Geneva of their intention to attend the meeting to avoid any inconveniences in accessing the meeting rooms.
Countries with trade concerns were requested to research and ensure that their points of arguments were well packaged and articulated as well as ensuring that the concerned parties were aware of the trade concerns through submission of the notifications.
However AU-IBAR encouraged the principle of bilateral discussions to avoid unnecessary conflicts with the concerned countries so as to encourage guarantee of market access rather than settling for a dispute settlement which can most likely reduce chances of market access by injuring bilateral relations between disputing parties for both international and regional markets.
Trading parties are partners to economic development even in the event of unresolved or emerging markets access challenges experienced in the course of trading, therefore all alternative avenues for bilateral negotiations to resolve matters should be explored.
The workshop was a success with 16 participants attending the meeting from the 30 initially expected participants. Some participants were not able to attend the meeting due to unexpected cancelling of flights and processing of VISAs. It is expected that the WTO meeting in Geneva will involve improved and coordinated active participation from African countries and that WTO notifications from African countries will increase from now hence forth.