The WTO Public Forum 2023: Let’s listen to the voice of Africa for a greener future

Mari Carlson & SEATINI-Uganda | September 19, 2023

Africa Trade Network (ATN) and Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI-Uganda – who we are delighted to have our partner in MATS!) organised a session on Green Trade and Africa-Policy Perspectives during the WTO Public Forum held between 12th and 15th of September in Geneva. In this session, we heard many insightful perspectives on the role of trade in advancing green transition, but also a strong message that a Global Green Deal is needed rather than autonomous greening initiatives by individual countries. Without multilateral cooperation more disparities will emerge, shadowing the efforts to develop more sustainable economies. 

Solving the equation of economic growth and climate change was identified as the imperative for Africa. Mr. Bagooro (Third World Network-Africa) listed investment, finance, and trade policies as bottlenecks to solve the equation. He also explained the disparity between Africa’s exports and imports: exports are mainly raw materials (mentioning agricultural and extractive industries which link directly with the environment) while imports consist of high-added value products. It is no surprise that Africa is paying attention to developing its extractive industry and making sure the benefits are shared within the continent.  

Ms. Nalunga (SEATINI-Uganda) further elaborated the African vision “The Africa We Want 2063” and the keys to greener transition, which not only consist of energy transition but of a more comprehensive decoupling from commodity, agrarian based economy. She raised the importance of the African continental free trade area, AfCFTA, to strengthen national and regional value chains for strengthened economic activities in Africa. She also noted that instead of advocating for trade liberalization more attention should be paid to enhance Africa’s productive capacities. Ms. Nalunga also raised an important perspective regarding trade agreements with the EU (European Union) which she explained to be dividing – not uniting the African continent. The Economic Partnership Agreements between the EU and Africa contain provisions that have negative implications on Africa’s quest for structural transformation.

Ambassador Ms. Mlumbi-Peter (South African Mission to the WTO) called for fair trade rules that are mutually beneficial for all. She underlined the persisting imbalances in the WTO Agreements which are in favour of Developed Countries. These include; domestic agricultural subsidies (Agreement on Agriculture-AoA), issues with technology transfer (TRIPS), and the local content requirements (TRIMs). These are some of the issues that the WTO Africa Group continues to champion, and which are on the agenda of the WTO 13th Ministerial Conference. She underlined that greening agricultural trade is a key in greening trade (exactly what we in the MATS project are exploring!) practically referring to subsidies in the cotton sector. She also raised the question of resilience not only in the semi-conductor sector but in agriculture, mentioning the Russian war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic, and how the concentration of grain production in the Black Sea area has become weaponized. 

Based on the discussion, more global cooperation, building stronger local value chains, and investments that support and enable greener economic activities in developing countries are needed. Africa has vast potential to offer solutions to the climate change crisis and the energy transition. Exploring its opportunities and raising its voice in multilateral and bilateral processes is critical. Ms. Nalunga concluded that solutions must come from the bottom-up and there is a need to connect the local level to multilateral level through inclusive and consultative mechanisms.  

Indeed, there is a need to listen to the messages that the African continent is sharing, and to support them to unlock the potential they have. That is the way towards a greener future in a mutually beneficial way. 

SEATINI-Uganda is one of the leading NGOs promoting pro-development trade, fiscal and related policies for sustained equitable development and improved livelihoods in Uganda and the East African Community region. SEATINI aims at strengthening stakeholders’ capacity to influence trade, fiscal and related policies and processes through research, advocacy, training, information sharing, networking, alliance building and litigation.  

Mari Carlson is the co-coordinator for the MATS project. She is also a doctoral researcher in the doctoral programme in Sustainable Use of Renewable Natural Resources at the University of Helsinki. Her research combines trade policy, environmental sustainability, and agriculture.

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