Africa has been lagging behind in development and representation in high profile international organisation such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO). In most cases decisions were made on behalf of this richest continent in the world without making consultations with any of the countries affected by that decision.

Updated on : 12-02-2021



There would only be a copy and paste of developmental strategies from the West, which in most cases did not work for the black continent as the needs of the people are not similar world-wide. After realising its potential, Africa has started implementing several development strategies to alleviate poverty through increasing the trade flows by reducing trade related barriers including tariff and non-tariff based trade restrictions.

We have witnessed the negotiations, signing, ratification and implementation of trade agreements between some African Economic Communities such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) on one part and the European Union or the United Kingdom on the other. The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between SADC and the EU and another with SACU Member States and Mozambique and the UK are some of the agreements that are already in place where Eswatini is also a beneficiary member.

Besides all these trade agreements between the economic communities of Africa and those from the West, Africa has successfully negotiated an African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) within itself. The AfCFTA, which started implementation on 1st January 2021, is expected to increase trade within Africa by 52.3 percent in 2022. This will be achieved by increasing intra-African trade by reducing tariffs by approximately 90 percent and harmonising trade rules at the continental level. A total of 54 of 55 African countries are implementing the agreement and by far it is the largest free trade area in the world in terms of participating countries since the formation of the WTO in 1994.

What is the AfCFTA expected to bring to entrepreneurs?

To entrepreneurs, the AfCFTA agreement has the potential to become a game changer and bring some great opportunities, such as:

  • Improving the intra-African trade landscape and export structure;
  • Creating a sound global economic impact;
  • Developing better policy frameworks;
  • Fostering specialisation and boosting industrialisation;
  • Strengthening regional and inter-state cooperation;
  • Increasing employment and investment opportunities, as well as technological development;
  • Providing the opportunity to harness Africa’s population dividend.

Objectives of the AfCFTA:

  • create a single market, deepening the economic integration of the continent
  • establish a liberalised market through multiple rounds of negotiations
  • aid the movement of capital and people, facilitating investment
  • move towards the establishment of a future continental customs union
  • achieve sustainable and inclusive socioeconomic development, gender equality and structural transformations within member states
  • enhance competitiveness of member states within Africa and in the global market
  • encourage industrial development through diversification and regional value chain development, agricultural development and food security
  • resolve challenges of multiple and overlapping memberships

Is the WTO leadership coming to Africa?

After the resignation of the WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo on the 31st August 2020, one year before his term was set to expire, WTO started the process of recruiting a replacement for Azevedo. Africa’s candidate Dr Okonjo-lweala from Nigeria has gone through all the recruitment stages and poised to become the next WTO Director General. The withdrawal of candidacy by the Republic of Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee from the DG race puts Dr Okonjo on a better position to take the global trade organisation’s hot seat. Late last year, it transpired that Dr Okonjo was supported by over 70% of the WTO Membership save for the US (supported the Republic of Korea’s candidate), which is known to have a high influence in the running of the business of the international organisations.

After the US elections and successful swearing in of the new US administration, the Biden-Harris Administration has overturned the Trump’s Administration decision and shown support for Dr Ngozi candidacy. The Biden-Harris’ administration hailed the Republic of Korea’s candidate for the withdrawal from the WTO-DG race. “The United States takes note of the decision by the Republic of Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee to withdraw her candidacy for Director General of the WTO. The Biden-Harris Administration is pleased to express its strong support for the candidacy of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director General of the WTO”, reads part of a statement released by the Office of the US Trade Representative on the Director General of the WTO.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala brings a wealth of knowledge in economics and international diplomacy from her 25 years with the World Bank and two terms as Nigerian Finance Minister.  She is widely respected for her effective leadership and has proven experience managing a large international organization with a diverse membership.  As the leader of the WTO, Okonjo-Iweala can ensure that Africa is not left out of important discussions and policies, more important than ever now due to the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

For more information contact:

Ministry of Commerce, Industry & Trade

International Trade Department

Tel: 2404 1808


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