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Improving effective participation of Africa in the WTO SPS Committee

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© 2015 AU-IBAR. Delegates attending the ‘Africa coordination meeting in preparation for March 2015 WTO SPS Committee meeting’, Geneva, on 24th March 2015.© 2015 AU-IBAR. Delegates attending the ‘Africa coordination meeting in preparation for March 2015 WTO SPS Committee meeting’, Geneva, on 24th March 2015.A one-day meeting, the 'Africa coordination meeting in preparation for March 2015 WTO SPS Committee meeting' was held in Geneva at the African Union (AU) Permanent Mission on 24th March 2015. Twenty six delegates from fifteen countries attended the workshop. The countries represented were Angola, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Egypt, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, and Zambia. Representatives of AU/Geneva, AU-IBAR, SADC and WTO also participated.

The one day Geneva meeting, whose objective was to improve the quality and effectiveness of participation of African Member States in the activities of the WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Committee, was chaired by the Director, AU-IBAR, Professor Ahmed El-Sawalhy.

Specific objectives of the meeting were to:

  • Improve communication and circulation of information between relevant national stakeholders within African countries before the regular meetings of the WTO SPS committee.
  • Improve communication and circulation of information between African countries before the regular meetings of the WTO SPS committee.
  • Identify potential Specific Trade Concerns that could be raised by African countries or against African countries (by third countries), and prepare coordinated action by or support to the African countries involved.
  • Harmonize/coordinate the submission of information to the SPS committee made by countries, RECs and the AU.

The coordination meeting was part of activities that have been spearheaded by AU-IBAR to address the prevailing situation whereby:

  • The implementation of the provisions of the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) is still limited in Africa, hence strengthening their implementation could help in: (i) protecting human, animal and/or plant life and health; and (ii) facilitating trade and improving market access for African food and agricultural products
  • Participation of African Countries in the WTO SPS Committee remains very low, compared to
  • There is low level of reactions to relevant notifications of trading partners emanating from Africa
  • African representation at the Committee meetings needs to be reinforced, both quantitatively and qualitatively.

In response to these felt needs, the African Union, through the PANSPSO project has significantly improved the participation of African delegates in the activities of international organizations responsible for the development of international sanitary and phytosanitary standards (OIE, Codex, IPPC).Lessons learned from this experience were considered in the case of participation in the informal and formal SPS committee meetings that followed the coordination meeting.

The delegates agreed on common positions and on a strategy for attendance and support to African countries who would raise specific trade concerns during the meeting of the SPS Committee of the WTO, held from 25th to 27th March 2015 at the WTO office, Geneva as part of a pilot mechanism to support the coordination and effective participation of African Member States in the WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary Committee meetings.

During the meeting of the SPS Committee, the African delegates all took to the floor to express their concerns on issues discussed and particularly the private standards; they also contributed to the discussions on SPS issues discussed. All trade concerns shared with the African delegates and raised before the Committee were supported by other members.

The Secretariat of the SPS Committee expressed satisfaction that the voice of African delegates was heard, and noted that there is need for improvement especially for the oral submissions.

Past activities to address the need for improved participation in the WTO SPS committee and implementation of the SPS agreement in 2013 include two workshops organized in Harare (2013) and Nairobi (2014). On implementation of transparency provisions, 75 participants from African countries have been trained on the use of the main WTO transparency tools (SPS global notification and information systems.