Ethiopia's Minister of Trade and Regional Integration Gebremeskel Chala talks about Ethiopia's trade priorities, WTO accession and fostering positive African potential.
Could you describe the importance of support such as the EIF to the trade agenda in Ethiopia, including its impact on institutional strengthening and export promotion?
EIF support to Ethiopia has spanned many facets, focusing on aspects crucial to the country's trade agenda. Let me highlight three specific points:
Firstly, trade facilitation. EIF interventions helped strengthen Ethiopia's ability to better integrate and participate more efficiently in the complex network of global value chains. This has been made possible by strengthening institutional and productive capacity and by simplifying trade regimes, thereby reducing barriers and streamlining processes for exporters and importers. These efforts have helped boost Ethiopia's competitiveness in the global market. One example of this success was illustrated by Ethiopia's participation in Dubai's Gulfood Expo, supported by the EIF and resulting in roughly USD 100 million worth of contract agreements with international buyers each year.
Secondly, capacity-building. With Ethiopia in the throes of WTO accession negotiations and the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), EIF technical support in building the technical expertise of key stakeholders is of prime significance to navigate these complex issues. This support has included training, assistance in preparing strategic documents and experience-sharing to enhance trade policy formulation, trade negotiation skills and understanding of trade rules and regulations. It has served to sustain the momentum of Ethiopia's involvement in these global and regional systems. On the AfCFTA front, the EIF also facilitated a benchmarking exercise to draw lessons from Nigeria's experience and harness regional insights to optimally underpin Ethiopia's approach.
Lastly, trade services. The EIF's focus on private sector engagement, policy reforms and export promotion strategy, as well as on facilitating market access for exporters, has been pivotal in shaping the business environment conducive to trade and investment in Ethiopia.
This wide range of support has had a real impact in our country. Over the past three to four years, we have witnessed significant growth in our merchandise trade, and this has been achieved in no small part thanks the efforts invested by the EIF programme.
How important is it for such support to be flexible, neutral and demand-driven in nature?
This is a very important question and it's easy to answer. The EIF's flexibility, neutrality and demand-driven approach are of paramount importance in all trade-related issues, especially when it comes to exports. Project implementation through the EIF is user-friendly and non-bureaucratical in nature, with straightforward rules. The programme's adaptability allows us to mainstream this support into our ongoing activities, and the EIF makes a point of catering to our trade sector's priorities, a fundamental endeavour for driving Ethiopia's trade agenda in a targeted manner.
2023 has seen renewed momentum in the area of Ethiopia's progress toward WTO accession, the year having opened with a visit to the country by the WTO Accession Secretariat in January, and continued in March with the appointment of the Chairperson of Ethiopia's Fifth Accession Working Group, for the preparation of which technical work is currently underway. On Ethiopia's side, you have now taken on the role of Chief Negotiator for WTO Accession. How can your Ministry be supported by programmes such as the EIF to maintain this progress?
WTO accession is not a simple process. It is a long-term undertaking that requires capacity, networking and financial resources. The WTO operates as a global value chain programme, governed by its rules. To succeed on the road to WTO membership, Ethiopia must possess the real capacity to fulfil its commitments and meet WTO requirements. It is in this context that the country needs to optimize the development partners support such as from the EIF, and although the programme is currently phasing out, we hope that the support will continue in the future and that this support will complement that of the WTO secretariat.
Streamlining and coordinating these support programmes, along with donors, will be crucial to securing the human resources and institutional capacity needed to meet the country's commitments in a timely basis. Support such as that provided by the EIF will play a critical role in accelerating Ethiopia's accession process.
Ethiopia ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in 2019, which represented a milestone in Ethiopia's engagement in the regional and global trading systems. Can you share your Government's aspirations under the AfCFTA?
Ethiopia has a long history on the global and regional stage, being a founding member of the United Nations and playing a leading role in the pan-African struggle. Addis Ababa is also home to the headquarters of the African Union.
The AfCFTA is the result of African leaders' ambition to create a single market for trade in goods and trade in services in Africa, making it the largest regional trading bloc globally by the number of member states.
Ethiopia is committed to promoting and leading this platform, as we believe it offers immense potential for trade and investment, which is not only within Africa, but also globally. It also creates a unique and substantial market for the benefit of the African citizen.
The ongoing implementation of the AfCFTA in Ethiopia also forms part of the broader scheme of the African Union's Agenda 2063.
Is there anything else that you would like to add or share with us?
Africa possesses tremendous potential that extends its benefits to the entire world. With a population of 1.3 billion, abundant natural resources and a burgeoning consumer base, Africa's prosperity has the potential to resonate on a global scale. To tap into that potential even further, we need to make sure to promote the positive aspects of our continent globally and showcase its many assets, precisely because fostering a positive image of Africa offers substantial benefits for the world at large.
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