Lesotho Ambassador Nkopane Raseeng Monyane talks African stakes in WTO negotiations

11 November 2015

Ambassador Nkopane Raseeng Monyane was appointed Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Lesotho to the United Nations Office, the World Trade Organization and other international organizations in Geneva, Switzerland on July 2013. He is currently the Coordinator of the African Group on WTO matters. Prior to his appointment as Ambassador, he held many positions in the banking, financial and textiles sectors in Lesotho. He was the Managing Director of the Lesotho Building Finance Corporation and worked as Managing Director of the Lesotho Bank. He was also General Manager of the Central Bank of Lesotho. From 2004 to 2013, he was the Regional Manager of the Gooway Group. 

[Bridges Africa] Nairobi is in a few weeks. How do you assess the road travelled and the work since Bali?

[Nkopane Raseeng Monyane] Well, there has not been much road travelled since Bali. Firstly, there was an impasse: the Protocol of Amendment for the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) could not be concluded before the end of July 2014. Once this situation was solved later on in the year, members were unable to come up with the work programme even though a detailed work programme had been mandated by the ministers in Bali. As a consequence we are nowin a negotiating phase without any clarity as to what exactly has to be achieved. This is why we are now only looking at a small package of deliverables for Nairobi. Now on the substantive issues discussions have stalled in the area of agriculture which is of major importance for the members.

[BA] What are your expectations for Nairobi?

[NRM] Nairobi must deliver for Africa and for Least Developed Countries (LDCs). This continues to be a catchword. But the question is: “can we realistically expect anything out of the terms of the upcoming  small package as it has developed?” It currently lists LDC issues, export competition and transparency as the most likely deliverables. The question is: “should we continue to have the usual expectations for Nairobi?”

[BA] Which fields do you identify as the most promising for a substantive Nairobi package?

[NRM] Well, the LDC package, export competition and transparency constitute the most promising elements of a Nairobi package. But the issue is this list is not what Africa is looking for! Africa is looking for reforms in agriculture. This was the basis of the Doha Development Agenda and Doha was the basis of reforms that should lead to development. Agriculture is the biggest part of such development if you take into account the related purposes of domestic needs and daily livelihood for people in Africa. So here we are quite disappointed as it appears like there will be no movement in the agriculture pillar, as we speak.

[BA] Nairobi is not the end, but nobody knows what will follow: a continuation of the DDA? A new negotiating format? News issues? How do you see the post-Nairobi era?

[NRM] First of all, any post- Nairobi dynamic will be determined by what happens in Nairobi. What is in that LDC package?There could be nothing in it and that would mean that Doha has not done anything to advance the development agenda. In the end if there's not much in the LDC package then it means that we still have to do something post-Nairobi to obtain an LDC package that is commercially meaningful.

Then there’s also the question of export competition as a deliverable. But as we speak now there's not much on this. Regarding the issue of transparency, which is not a commercially meaningful outcome in itself for that matter, the question of who is going to pay for this transparency and what happens for those who are not in a position to do so need to be tackled.

In a post-Nairobi context one crucial question will consist in either considering that all issues are continuing under the Doha architecture or else issues continue but they are treated in a different form. There is this argument that Doha has not delivered over the 14 years, and that therefore changes are needed. My observation is that you cannot begin to talk about continuing issues and then begin to say that we have to change the architecture! Doha as a development agenda was crafted to take care and to take into account the needs of the underprivileged. And if we begin to talk about those needs in a manner that will not be inclusive, in a manner thatmight lead to some kind of coalition of the willing, then we are running away from the very origin of the issues. We have an incomplete DDA, those who want to change the architecture have to come up with a very clear proposal. If you want to make a change you have to make a proposal, justify it and sell it and then members can buy into it. 

[BA] It seems that some delegations would prefer to cover the development objectives through an LDC package only. Do you see the possibility to have a credible LDC package, if there are no or only minimal concessions in favor of all the developing countries?

[NRM] There will be an LDC package. The question is how credible it will be. Everybody says there must be delivery for development but beyond that what is there? And that is where the credibility comes in. Are we true to development? With regard to the DFQF issue: what are we going to deliver, to who, to how many members? What will be the impact of a DFQF on LDCs industrialisation process? Is that going to assist with the questions of African economic integration? Is that going to make Africaitselfcompetitive? DFQF is the biggest issue and we need to wonder what in it will truly assist LDCs to progress? There are benefits for one or two countries but not for many!

Rules of origin won’t deliver anything in themselves; they are intimately tied to market access. Same goes for the LDC services waiver. We need to realise the commercial value of all these proposals.

There is a big drive of getting a binding outcome but the real question is: “what commercially meaningful outcomes do you get of such binding decisions for all LDCs and not just a minority of them?”  After all, it is not up to the WTO membership to come up with a meaningful LDC package; LDCs’ overall consensus has to be there.

[BA] How do you, as the African Group coordinator, manage to deal with the expectations of the members of your group which include LDCs and non-LDCs?

[NRM] As a coordinator, I do not think of LDCs and non-LDCs separately. I try to see what African priorities are and within the context of Africa how those priorities are determined by different members with different levels of aspirations. We are first Africans before being LDCs! The LDC component or any other configuration is only a subset of the permanent state of being Africa.

[BA] What does a ministerial conference in Africa represent notable since this is the first one held in Africa in WTO history?

[NRM] We appreciate the fact that the membership has begun to recognise Africa exists. In a way it is a pity the first ministerial conference in Africa take place 20 years after the establishment of an organisation which was originally established in Marrakesh, Africa. It will however sensitise our people to the role of the multilateral system and this kind of sensitisation is positive.

[BA] How do you see the changing global trading landscape affecting trade decision-making in the WTO with regard to Africa’s agenda specifically?

[NRM] Well, to start with change is inevitable. Is that change for the better? What are the objectives of those pushing for the changes? All this goes back to the question of the post-Nairobi Agenda. For example mega-regionals are in the interests of specific countries but they are not in the interest of the multilateral trading system. With Nairobi we also want to say that Africa will engage constructively with the multilateral trading system. 

The question is for whose products? We do not just want to be a growing consumer market; we want to be on the other side of the equation in the global economy. Africa must develop capacity to supply its growing markets and gain global competitiveness.

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