If you haven’t seen the WTO video Trade Starts Here , featuring Kenyan truck driver Jackson Mutua, I would strongly urge you to watch it. The video clearly illustrates the trickle-down effect of trade agreements. Jackson’s life has been drastically altered by trade policies, and the changes have affected the quality of his life, and the future of his family.
In a way, we are all like Jackson. Trade affects us every day but we are often not consciously aware of this. The bag of rice you picked up from a supermarket, for example, has gone through a long journey to get to your kitchen. The shoes on your feet have been designed, cut, manufactured and shipped to your local retailer before you were able to purchase them. This process has either been streamlined or obscured by trade policies, the type of policies that are made at WTO’s Ministerial conferences. So with the 10th Ministerial conference (MC10) just a few days away, it’s probably worth thinking about how the policies that emerge from the conference will impact you and the people in your community.
For instance, when it comes to businesses and services, trade policy plays a huge role in the way people are able to work. Many small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) find it difficult to penetrate foreign markets due to the stringent conditions they have to meet from trade distorting tariffs and the lack of international standards on their goods. SMEs account for a huge proportion of the job market in Africa, and are an indispensable part of the entrepreneurial culture in Kenya. After MC10, if members ratify the Trade Facilitation Agreement, which aims to expedite the export process, then SMEs will be able to access markets without facing unnecessary barriers.
If you’ve ever wondered why doctors, accountants or lawyers from developed countries can practice in Kenya or Africa with relative ease, yet our professionals aren’t granted the same treatment when they attempt to practice abroad, then you’ve already witnessed the unfavourable way global trade policy can work. It’s a similar and unfortunate story for the African farmer competing with the subsidised farmer in a wealthier nation. These are the type of issues that will be addressed in Nairobi next week.
Earlier this year, around 200 additional products valued at an estimated $1 trillion in trade were added to the Information Technology Agreement list. The agreement, which was originally signed in 1996, eliminates import duties on products such as computers and scientific instruments. This means that it’s less expensive for countries like Kenya to import information technology goods that are essential for development and that foster innovation. This move will trickle down to emerging startups and businesses that depend on information technology to succeed.
The outcomes of this conference, which will take place over the course of 4 days, are important and relevant to all members of society, from policy makers to business owners. This is because trade connects and affects us all!
The 10th Ministerial Conference will take place on the 15th-18th of December at Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi, Kenya.