Statement by the U.S. Representative
14 February 2017
Thank you, Chair.
The United States extends a warm welcome to Deputy Minister Mansaray and the honorable representatives of Sierra Leone. Your country has faced more than its share of challenges, from a civil war that ended in 2002, to the Ebola outbreak in 2014, to the collapse of iron ore prices and associated loss of production in 2014 and 2015. And yet Sierra Leone’s economy and its people have proven resilient, with economic growth resuming since the last quarter of 2015, supported by new investments in mining, agriculture, and fisheries. I would also like to note that Sierra Leone is characterized by strong religious tolerance and has exhibited political stability, holding in 2012 its third democratic election since the civil war. It also enjoys plentiful natural resources, large areas of fertile land, and abundant fisheries.
Of course, Sierra Leone still faces many challenges typical of countries at its level of development, including poor infrastructure, high energy and transportation costs, scarcity of financing, and weak institutional capacity. We are encouraged to see that the government of Sierra Leone has recognized the importance of attracting foreign investment and diversifying the economy. The government is engaged in significant infrastructure projects and recognizes that drawing new foreign investment requires a more supportive business environment. It has enacted regulatory reforms to simplify the process of starting a business and to protect the rights of minority investors. In 2016, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. Government agency, began implementing a four-year, $44 million threshold program to support policy reforms, build institutional capacity, and improve governance in the water and electricity sectors.
The TPR report submitted by the government of Sierra Leone indicated that it is developing a plan to make greater use of the opportunities presented by the U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act, which we would very much welcome. With U.S.-Sierra Leone two-way goods trade valued at approximately $120 million per year in recent years, we believe that there is significant room for growth.
Sierra Leone’s membership in ECOWAS and its adoption this year of that group’s common external tariff should help position the country to take advantage of the larger regional market. The U.S. Government is working with ECOWAS to promote the free flow of goods within the region. Sierra Leone’s report states that it has been undertaking customs-related reforms and that the cabinet approved the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) last September. The TFA is expected to enter into force soon and to bring billions of dollars in growth to traders, with much of that growth and opportunity accruing to least developed country Members. By notifying the WTO and following through on that approval as soon as possible, Sierra Leone would be taking an important step in signaling your commitment to facilitating the efficient flow of trade across your borders.
While we commend Sierra Leone for having bound its entire WTO tariff schedule, we note that these tariff bindings range as high as 80 percent, even though its applied rates are much lower. Bindings at prohibitive levels can have a chilling effect on investment as they create uncertainty on the cost of doing business. We would encourage the government to lower the bound rates so that they are closer to the rates that Sierra Leone applies under the ECOWAS common external tariff. We were also struck by the high level of other duties and charges the government imposes. As part of its economic planning going forward we hope that the government will look to broaden and diversify its tax base. We also request that Sierra Leone keep us informed of any plans to use a levy or other trade measures to implement the new African Union peacekeeping fund.
Part of an attractive business climate is strong protection of intellectual property. While the United States commends Sierra Leone’s intellectual property rights legislation, the primary goal must now be enforcement of those rights, including through customs screening. Public awareness campaigns about copyright and trademark infringement can also play an important role. We hope to see Sierra Leone ratify the Berne Convention, the World Intellectual Property Organization (“WIPO”)’s Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.
We are looking to Sierra Leone to more fully undertake a number of its WTO obligations, such as with respect to the requirements under the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade to set up a national enquiry point and publish and make notifications of technical regulations.
With regard to government procurement, the WTO Secretariat report notes that Sierra Leone is neither an observer to, nor a member of, the WTO’s Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA). We encourage Sierra Leone to consider becoming an observer to the agreement given the efforts it has made to ensure its government procurement regime is transparent and open to international competition. Being an observer would provide opportunities to engage with GPA Members on government procurement issues more broadly without taking on any obligations.
In sum, we commend the government of Sierra Leone for its commitment to trade and investment reform which, along with its commitment to democratic values and peace and stability, bodes very well for the future of Sierra Leone and its people.
Again, thank you for all the efforts that have gone into preparing for this review, and best wishes to your delegation.