The crucial importance of UNCTAD's assistance in support of developing countries' efforts to put in place conditions necessary for trade to play its full part in development and create employment was highlighted by participants in a meeting on trade policy and sustainable development hosted by UNCTAD on 6-8 October.
The meeting was held to foster the exchange of experiences and lessons learnt in formulating and implementing development-oriented trade policy. Participants included senior policymakers and trade negotiators, as well as representatives of international organizations, civil society and academia.
International trade is expected to act as a powerful enabling force in the achievement of the new Sustainable Development Goals, which were adopted at the United Nations Summit on Sustainable Development in New York on 27 September.
This is because trade provides means to overcome constraints posed by small domestic markets, allowing access to larger external markets, as well as skills, technology and capital, which in turn enable a better use of productive resources to catalyze structural transformation and create jobs.
But trade can play this role only under the right conditions. The extent to which such conditions exist has proven to be uneven across economies. A lack of economic diversity and the failure to translate growth into more and better jobs continue to challenge countries with limited productive capacity and resources.
This is why the design of trade-related policies should be formulated and implemented in a coherent and integrated manner with other complementary policies, and take into account recent changes in how trade is conducted (such the growing link between trade in goods and services in the digital economy, and the rise of global and regional value chains).
This has come to represent a daunting task for developing country policymakers.
Trade Policy and Sustainable Development Meeting, 06 - 08 October 2015
Speaking at the meeting, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Trade and Industry of Rwanda, Emmanuel Hategeka, acknowledged the support his country received from UNCTAD in setting up its trade policy framework, and also conducting a Services Policy Review, published in 2014. This support had helped the country to set up the robust basis of its trade policy and the recommendations in the Services Policy Review, since adopted, were helping to strengthen the country's services sector.
Noting the significant progress made in developing trade capacity, improving the business environment and reducing extreme poverty, Mr. Hategeka underlined the importance of policy interventions in such areas as: (i) sustained supply-related capacity support; (ii) technology transferal and the strengthening of innovation; and (iii) regional investment in transport infrastructure. Putting in place a comprehensive package of support for unregistered and small-scale cross-border trade was important in formalizing informal trade and fighting against poverty.
African Union Ambassador to the United Nations Jean-Marie Ehouzou also emphasized the need for African countries to increase "value addition" in domestic economies by processing raw materials. He encouraged UNCTAD to continue its support through Trade Policy Framework Reviews, Services Policy Reviews and to the planned Continental Free Trade Area in Africa.
The Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Trade and Industry of Botswana, Ontlametse B. Ward, said that her country's regional dimension was particularly important as the bulk of its trade takes places with its neighbors in the Southern African Customs Union.
Participants also recognized that what countries consider "best" for their national development objectives could evolve over time and policy adaptation is an important element of "best-fit" trade policy frameworks.
The Director of the International Trade Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mauritius, Assad Bhuglah, said that due to lack of raw materials and the impossibility of diversifying its agricultural sector, Mauritius's trade policy had now shifted from manufacturing to services, including knowledge-based services and information and communications technology/business process outsourcing. He said that proactive participation in the multilateral trading system, mega-regional trade agreements, and regional trade agreements was a crucial component of Mauritius's integration into international trade and the global economy.
The Director for Dispute Settlement of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy of the Republic of Korea, Dongwook Chun, said that after securing market-access opportunities abroad by joining a series of free-trade areas, the Republic of Korea had sought to deepen the synchronization of its trade policy with industrial policy by strengthening domestic coordination between institutions in charge of trade, investment, industry and energy.
He also said that the Republic of Korea was considering the possibility of joining the recently-signed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States of America, and Viet Nam. As a country which had moved up the value chain, Mr. Chun offered to continue to share the Republic of Korea's successful experience with developing countries.
The Director-General of Foreign Trade of the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Dominican Republic, Katrina Naut, said that institutional coordination, synergies in formulation, implementation and monitoring were important elements of trade policy frameworks.
Many participants referred to possible implications for their economies of the TPP and other mega-regional trade agreements. Several panelists said that the possible effects of TPP could be limited for outsiders, and that expected global welfare gains would be much higher under the Doha Development Round of the World Trade Organization than under mega-regional trade agreements such as the TTP. Referring to recent deceleration in global trade, Simon Evenett of the University of St. Gallen said that the spread of state export incentives had created a large distortion which needed to be carefully monitored.
A set of policy recommendations emerged from the meeting. These pointed to the importance of deliberate trade policymaking process; strengthening related institutions and regulations; following a robust implementation roadmap, producing an action plan and monitoring outcomes; and putting in place public-private partnerships.
Participants at the meeting also recognized the need to strengthen the linkage between trade and employment by enhancing services infrastructure, developing skills tailored to the needs of the market, and diversifying into services. Such measures strengthen the competitiveness of economies, add resilience against financial and other shocks, and increase employment.
In addition, the meeting facilitated the creation of a network of trade directors on trade policy formulation and implementation. A large number of requests were made for UNCTAD's support on trade policy frameworks and Services Policy Reviews, including for regional groupings (for example, from Botswana, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Jamaica, Mauritius, Namibia and Tunisia).
Under United Nations Development Account projects, UNCTAD has supported developing countries in assessing and formulating coherent national trade policy frameworks and in strengthening the linkage between trade, employment and development. Such support has been provided to Algeria, Angola, Botswana, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Namibia, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Tunisia and Zambia.