Multilateral Trade Negotiations: How Sensible must African Countries and Trade Negotiators Stand? Some Lessons from WTO Experience

It is generally acknowledged that Africa’s participation in Multilateral Trade Negotiations (MTNs) improved both quantitatively and qualitatively since the launch of the Uruguay Round (UR). This is not to say that African negotiators have reached the same levels of preparedness and sophistication as their counterparts in the developed countries. A number of challenges still remain and some of them relate to capacity constraints in understanding the negotiations subjects / agenda due to lack of relevant training, lack of adequate economic and trade data and poor knowledge of the negotiations structure, all of which impact negatively on overall negotiation strategy. The aim of this paper is to review Africa’s engagement with the WTO with special focus on the capacity challenges faced by the African trade negotiators. It is mainly a reflection of the author, based on personal experiences as a trade negotiator in Geneva during the period 1996 – 2001 coupled with some literature review. It is observed that during the early years of WTO’s existence, no area of international jurisprudence was developing faster than international trade law. It is also observed that although the UR had been dubbed “the round to end all trade negotiations rounds,” the WTO Work Programme has continued to grow at an alarming pace as new subjects are added to the WTO agenda. These developments have posed serious challenges to negotiations from developing countries as they strive to catch up, keep pace and even influence the scope, pace and outcome of the negotiations. It is therefore argued that notwithstanding the quantitative and qualitative improvements in Africa’s participation in MTN’s, a lot more still needs to be done to improve the capacity of African negotiators and stakeholders to participate actively and meaningfully in negotiations.