The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) largest annual outreach event the Public Forum, which was held at WTO headquarters in Geneva on 27 – 29 September, saw widespread participation by representatives from civil society, academia, business, the media, governments, parliamentarians and inter-governmental organizations.
The theme for this year’s forum, ‘Inclusive Trade’, was especially relevant given the changing business environment and slowing growth witnessed in many economies around the world. The forum called for encouraging small enterprises, women and innovative businesses to take an active role in the global trading system. Citing that no part of the world has been successful in trading globally without first learning to trade with its neighbors, the forum urged greater multilateral trade both regionally and internationally.
African representatives at the forum were eager to push forward greater intra-continent trade saying that economic integration among African nations was critical to the continent’s long-term growth and success. Addressing the forum, the Secretary-General of UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Mukhisa Kituyi said: "African countries are boosting intra-regional trade and deepening economic integration at a time when many politicians in the global North are raising doubts about the benefits of trade.”
“Africa is widely noted for its low levels of intra-regional trade, but in fact the levels are much higher when North Africa is removed from the analysis. For instance, in East Africa, intra-regional trade is closer to 26 percent, the same level as in Latin America,” added the Secretary-General.
Meanwhile, African nations are moving ahead with preparations for a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA), which will bring together more than one billion people in 54 African countries with a combined gross domestic product of more than $3.4 trillion.
Change is already happening. In the space of a year, the time required to move a container from Mombasa in Kenya to Kampala in Uganda has dropped from 48 days to four. "That is progress," said Mr. Kituyi, “more intra-African trade will lead to fairer, more equitable growth and the creation of more and better jobs, as well as help achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”