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Op-ed: The World Trade Organization – More important now than ever, exciting time for Ethiopia

Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala speaking at the opening of the Business Forum at the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) of the WTO on 28 February 2024 in Abu Dhabi (Photo:WTO)

By Andrew Mitchell,
Minister of State of the UK for Development and Africa

Addis Abeba – Trade is the lifeblood of the global economy – it brings countries and people together and can transform our lives for the better.  I’m proud that the UK’s trading offer to Ethiopia and over 60 other countries is amongst the most generous in the world thanks to our Developing Countries Trading Scheme.   Globally, no country has lifted itself out of poverty without increasing its trade with the world and over the last three decades, we have seen more than a billion people escape poverty as exports from developing countries have doubled.   

At the heart of this success story is the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its outstandingly successful leader Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Since 1995 it has set the global trading rules which provide a common, predictable, level playing field for businesses around the world. So far 164 countries accounting for over 98% of world trade have joined the WTO and its framework for trade have driven export-led growth and job creation in countries from Vietnam to Bangladesh to Ghana.

As Ministers from over 150 countries gather this week in Abu Dhabi for the WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13), the importance of the WTO for global trade and growth is clear.  It is here that the rules that will power the global economy into the next decade must be agreed. It is here that we find the opportunity to make the global trading system work better for the world’s poorest countries and ensure that we all benefit from the transformational impact of trade.   

Ethiopia’s ambition to join the WTO is picking up pace, with key Accession documents nearing completion, a Working Party to be convened in the coming months and a senior delegation attending MC13 as observers.”

This is an exciting time for Ethiopia and the WTO. Ethiopia is the third largest country in the world that is not yet a WTO member, and as a rapidly growing country of 120m people has huge potential for growth in trade and investment. Ethiopia’s ambition to join the WTO is picking up pace, with key Accession documents nearing completion, a Working Party to be convened in the coming months and a senior delegation attending MC13 as observers. The UK is proud to be a strong supporter of this effort, and has provided independent expert advice, logistics support and negotiations training, crucial to a successful Accession. We are also supporting Ethiopia at the WTO in Geneva, where our Deputy Permanent Representative is the Chair of Ethiopia’s Accession Committee.

The UK is committed to working closely with Ethiopia to deepen our bilateral trade relationship, and tackle barriers that limit trade and investment. Last year we held the global launch of the UK’s Developing Countries Trading Scheme (DCTS) here in Addis. The new scheme provides improved market access by simplifying tariffs, rules of origin and conditions to boost trade with partners like Ethiopia. We are also helping Ethiopian textile exporters find new buyers in the UK market. And through our support for Industrial Parks, the financial sector – including British International Investment’s investment in Dashen Bank – the UK trade partnerships work, helping Ethiopian textile and garments sectors – and trade logistics, the UK is working to improve the environment for Ethiopian trade.

The UK wants to see a WTO which works for everyone, including the developing countries which make up almost two thirds of its membership. As set out in last year’s International Development White Paper, the UK puts the interests of developing countries at the heart of its approach to the WTO. We are championing calls to extend lower tariffs and flexible rules for Least Developed Countries and to introduce new rules on investment facilitation that have the power to boost investment in developing countries and across the globe $250 billion.  We have been arguing for an agreement that protects our oceans and delivers sustainable fisheries, protecting coastal communities in developing countries, and we are trying to tackle food insecurity by removing harmful export restrictions on food. And we have backed up this advocacy with financial support to enable all LDC governments to attend MC13.  

Of course, the WTO rules will only deliver for development if we stick to them and can challenge one another when we don’t. This requires a fully functioning Dispute Settlement System to ensure that smaller economies are not taken advantage of by bigger states engaging in unfair, unjust trading practices. This is a priority for the UK as is ensuring that all countries have a clear voice in WTO negotiations – since 2011 the UK has provided legal, technical, and financial assistance to developing countries at the WTO, including to Ethiopia accession.    

Ethiopia’s energy and commitment to renew the accession process in the run up to MC13 has been impressive. We now need to seize the opportunity before us to continue the progress towards accession for Ethiopia and make the rules that bind us both stronger and fairer so that everyone can prosper, and no one is left behind.  AS

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