U.S. Statement at the WTO Trade Policy Review of the Gambia

WTO-TPRAs Delivered by David Shark
Deputy Permanent Representative to the WTO

Geneva
September 14,  2010

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The United States welcomes the delegation from The Gambia led by Minister Kah to this Trade Policy Review. We would also like to thank the discussant, Ambassador Shree Baboo Chekitan Servansing, for providing an insightful context for our deliberations

We thank the Government of The Gambia for the background report it submitted for this review and look forward to a candid and constructive exchange of information regarding The Gambia’s trade policies and practices. It is our hope that this review will serve to recognize and reinforce the trade policy advances that the Government of The Gambia has made as well as to identify areas in which further attention and action is needed.

The Gambia, an original Member of the WTO, has traditionally demonstrated a strong commitment to open markets and free trade. We commend it for the significant steps it has taken in recent years to liberalize trade and to modernize its trade and investment regimes. We note, for example, the government’s restructuring of applied tariff rates and its efforts to promote investment. These measures have contributed to steady growth in the national economy over the past six years.

However, as described in the comprehensive report prepared by the WTO Secretariat, The Gambia still faces many challenges in improving its trade environment and employing trade to boost economic growth and development and to alleviate poverty. Perhaps the greatest of these challenges is to achieve broader diversification of the Gambian economy, especially in the export sector. As the government has acknowledged, the Gambian economy is over reliant on groundnuts and fishery exports and is hampered by an underdeveloped manufacturing sector.

As the Secretariat report suggests, there are trade policy measures the Gambian government can take to help address these challenges. For example, duty and tax exemptions are granted unevenly, weakening the transparency and predictability that investors seek. On the other hand, we are encouraged by the government’s efforts to implement its program of economic and structural reforms, including fiscal reforms under the guidance of the World Bank and the IMF.

Most of Gambia’s exports to the United States enter our market duty-free either on an MFN or a preferential basis. We took particular note of the Secretariat Report’s observation that, while The Gambia qualifies for a variety of preferential trade programs, it has not made optimum use of them. For example, The Gambia exported only $8,000 worth of goods to the United States during the first six months of 2010 under duty-free provisions of AGOA and the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences. In our view, however, there are many goods which The Gambia could conceivably produce more competitively and export to the United States which would also benefit from duty-free treatment under AGOA and GSP, such as fresh vegetables, cut flowers, and processed cocoa products. My government is always pleased to consult with the Gambian government on the means by which The Gambia might make better use of the market access opportunities offered under AGOA and GSP to improve the competitiveness of its exports to the United States.

We recognize The Gambia’s need for trade capacity building assistance in order to improve its trade environment and to participate more effectively in the WTO. The United States offers trade capacity building programs and trade-related technical assistance through its West African regional USAID mission in Ghana and its regional competitiveness hub, also in Ghana. We note that the government accessed funding in late 2009 under the EIF Trust Fund which provided an opportunity for the Gambian government to enhance its trade policy formulation and to ensure that trade is mainstreamed at an operational level into The Gambia’s national development strategy. The United States is interested to know the status of The Gambia’s efforts to ensure that trade becomes a core element of the government’s development plans.

The United States also champions the WTO’s work on trade facilitation especially because we believe that it holds such promise for developing country Members. For this reason, the United States is eager to know about the steps the Gambian government is taking to assess its trade facilitation needs.

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight several other areas that deserve special attention in our view. The Gambian government does not appear to have given sufficient attention to intellectual property rights protection and enforcement, which is of particular concern given active Gambian involvement in the re-export trade.

We are also interested to know about the steps The Gambia is taking or plans to take to address its sanitary and phytosanitary concerns, in a way that takes into account its obligations under the WTO agreements. We understand The Gambia’s capacity constraints in making changes to its sanitary and phytosanitary system. But we would urge the government to be guided by those agreements in its efforts to achieve The Gambia’s sanitary and phytosanitary objectives.

Furthermore, the Secretariat report notes that while The Gambia has privatized several state-owned and state-controlled firms over the years, little has been done recently to continue this process. Renewed progress on privatization will go a long way toward helping to improve the Government fiscal situation and to improve the trade and investment environment.

Finally, I would like to make positive note of the government’s procurement legislation, especially its requirements to establish the Gambia Public Procurement Authority and to decentralize procurement decisions.

In closing, Mr. Chairman, while we recognize the capacity constraints that may have limited The Gambia’s participation in WTO activities, we, nonetheless, encourage The Gambia to play an active role in the Doha Development Agenda negotiations. The United States believes that LDCs such as The Gambia have much to gain from a balanced and ambitious result in the Doha negotiations that include meaningful new market access opportunities for all. Such a result could further enhance opportunities for The Gambia to broaden its export base, its export markets and hence its opportunity to diversify. The United States looks forward to working with The Gambia toward bringing the round to a successful conclusion. And we offer all good wishes to the Gambian government for a successful Trade Policy Review.