GENEVA: That trade should be the engine for economic growth, seems uncontentious. But how can trade be truly beneficial for all? Last week saw the first Global Forum on Inclusive Trade for Least Developed Countries, which sought to address this issue. Representatives from over 40 countries met at the World Trade Organization’s headquarters in Geneva, drawn from Governments, businesses, NGOs, and researchers they discussed the importance of trade for economic and social development in the poorest countries, and the unique challenges they face. Oshun Partnership’s Executive Director, Sarah Beeching was at the moderator for the two-day event hosted by the Enhanced Integrated Framework.
The conference provided an opportunity for entrepreneurs and policy makers from developing countries to highlight their commitment to global trade whilst sharing ideas and experiences for strategies to enable them to succeed in the global trade environment. Sarah Beeching opened the meeting noting that “In the last two decades there has been a boom in world trade. Barriers have come down and we are seeing unprecedented inter-connections between countries, companies and people. Yet, we have a growing trade gap between developed nations and the world’s poorest countries – and increasing instability in the world economy. The world’s poorest nations, home to 13 % of the world’s population, engage in less than 1% of global trade. This meeting is focused on is ensuring that LDCs are further integrated into world trade at scale.”
Director General of WTO Roberto Azevêdo, noted the challenges that needed to be addressed: Creating a strong and robust trading system that supports and includes access to global markets for LDCs; ensuring LDCs have the capacity to access trading systems; and, increasing advocacy for LDCs in a complex global trade environment.
“With global tensions rising and threats emerging to trading systems, smaller economies tend to lose the most.” Azevêdo said “So we must work to resolve these tensions and we have to do it as quickly as we can.”
Across the two days, ideas to address challenges and better position the poorest countries in the global economy were shared. Fatoumata Jallow-Tambajang, Vice President of The Gambia, echoed calls for policies in LDCs that are inclusive of women in particular, calling them the movers and shakers of trade. She noted that more remains to be done to understand and address the challenges that small enterprises, women entrepreneurs, and young businesses face in becoming part of the global trade community.
And there was no shortage of passionate women to share their business ideas and highlight how networks can be leveraged to generate trade and prosperity for the poorest.
The Rt Hon Baroness Patricia Scotland, QC, signed an MOU with the Enhanced Integrated Framework on behalf of the Commonwealth Secretariat. This collaboration is one of the first communiqué commitments form the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to be delivered.
The agreement will support Commonwealth poorest countries, many of which also fall within the category of Small and Vulnerable Economies and Small Island Developing States. Speaking at the signing Secretary-General Scotland said “Strategic Partnerships are indispensable if we are to deliver on the objectives agreed with our member countries, around a quarter of which are currently classified as Least Developed Countries”
The importance of a transparent, inclusive, fair, and open rules-based multilateral trading system, which takes into account the special requirements of the poorest and most vulnerable economies was a theme that many of the speakers returned to.
The particular needs of women and young entrepreneurs was also highlighted. Her Royal Highness Princess, Abze Djigma of Burkina Faso, gave an impassioned speech noting that the best weapon on the path to accelerated women’s empowerment is trade. Kule Galma, a youth representative from Somalia said that the aim of education should be to encourage young and inquiring minds. “African minds are so enterprising,” she said. But they need and deserve to be educated for the 21st century to compete in the changing global market, with vocational training to provide support for those who aren’t suited to formal education.
Partnership at the heart of the trade agenda
It was clear that the sustainability of trade solutions supporting the economic development of LDCs requires a variety of players and support. Vice President Jallow-Tambajang highlighted how important it is for partners worldwide to help LDCs progress, but it is just as important for the governments of LDCs to show a real commitment to trade to progress domestic development.
Malawi’s Minister Mussa provided examples of action, saying his country has been making political progress in committing to trade as an important avenue to reducing poverty and had introduced a range of strategies to support development, including facilitating a better cross-border trade regime. But he also recognises an important role in creating local buy-in and markets for locally produced products and services.
Alongside the MOU signed with the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Enhanced Integrated Framework also signed an MOU with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. Small island states are particularly vulnerable to climate change and were well represented at the forum.
Pitching ideas in the Dragon’s Den
Showing that trade doesn’t need to be a dry subject, three female entrepreneurs took to the stage to pitch their investment ideas to a group of ‘Dragons’ drawn from governments and the private sector.
Alberta Vitale from Women in Business Development Incorporated in Samoa, shared the expansion potential for her island’s coconut business. They process high grade coconut oil for the cosmetics industry supplying the Body Shop. Damchae Den, from the Bhutan Association of Women Entrepreneurs (BAOWE), had an innovative idea to tackle the dual problems of youth unemployment, and the challenge of finding skilled labour to work in agriculture, tourism, recycling and infrastructure in Bhutan. Finally, Betty Chinyamunyamu, from the National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi shared the potential for her country to reestablish itself in global markets as a producer of high quality organic Fair Trade cashew nuts. All three entrepreneurs withstood a not-too-fierce grilling from the dragons, before Sarah Beeching turned to the audience for their verdict. There was perhaps a touch of block voting in the WTO, and African nations rallied their support for Malawi. But, all three were worthy winners, and hopefully will be able to realise their ideas with real investment.
Can trade catalyse development?
At the conclusion of the conference, strong commitment had been shown from developing countries to progress trade opportunities through the signing of a Call to Action. This recommitted signatories to the SDGs, the Istanbul Programme of Action, and global and multilateral trading systems.
Ratnakar Adhikari, Executive Director of the Enhanced Integrated Framework, explained that LDCs made a commitment in several areas, including showing political will to commit to reform, and addressing issues that hinder private investment. More support from the international community is required to accelerate reforms.
Moving forward, there continues to be a range of barriers to market access that need addressing, including improving use of technology and services to support growth, as well as engaging better with the private sector. Sarah Beeching noted the importance of governments investing in education, health and wellbeing of their citizens “ People are your greatest asset” she said.
The Enhanced Integrated Framework Secretariat are a little jewel in the multilateral system with expertise able to navigate not only the international system, but also to support entrepreneurs to unlock the potential in their sectors. In an era of high rhetoric in the world of international trade, it is reassuring to know that a small part of the system has the needs of the poorest at the centre of their mandate.
Ratnakar Adhikari brought the discussion back to the importance of women, youth, and SMEs. “The fact that the agenda of inclusive trade should not be working in a vacuum is an idea that came out clearly,” he said. And he is right, progressing trade and economic opportunities for the poorest is an integral part of the Sustainable Development Goal agenda and means providing greater opportunities to the most disadvantaged and first and foremost within their borders.
By Sarah Beeching and Imelda Ntanare