U.S. Statement at the WTO Trade Policy Review of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU)

WTO_OMC centeredStatement as delivered by
Christopher Wilson,
USTR Deputy Chief of Mission/Chargé d’affaires a.i.

Geneva
October 25, 2017

Thank you, Chair.  The United States welcomes the officials in attendance today representing the eight WAEMU member states for the first Trade Policy Review of their countries as a group.  We also would like to thank the Secretariat for the extensive work represented by the report it prepared with its numerous country annexes.

U.S. two way trade with the WAEMU countries is important and totaled $2.4 billion in 2016, with the U.S. principally importing agricultural products and minerals and primarily exporting motor vehicles, oil and machinery.  U.S. foreign direct investment in the region totals about $145 million.  We value our relationship with the countries being reviewed today.

WAEMU member countries, almost all of which are least developed countries, face a number of economic challenges.  Yet we are encouraged to see the degree to which they have embraced efforts at regional economic integration and harmonization, both among themselves and as members of the Economic Community of West African States, of which they are all members.  The strength of engagement by the WAEMU member countries demonstrates the importance and benefits of achieving greater scale through such cooperation.  Our companies have indicated that such initiatives make the region a more attractive place to invest and do business.

One of the factors affecting the ease of doing business is the cost and degree of certainty in moving goods in and out of a country.  In this regard, we note that most of the WAEMU members have only bound a low percentage of the tariff lines in the WTO, which contributes to an environment of business uncertainty.  And as the Secretariat has noted, all but two of the countries are applying customs duties that exceed their bound rates.  Similarly, most of the governments are applying other duties and charges in contravention of their bindings.  We look to the governments to remedy this situation and suggest that WAEMU engage the WTO Secretariat for assistance, as needed.  We also look forward to details on how the WAEMU countries will implement the Kigali Decision, and encourage the use of non-trade measures to fund African Union activities.  It is the view of the United States that excessive reliance on imports as a source of government and administrative revenue can choke off trade, investment, and development.

We are pleased to see that most of the WAEMU members have ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and would encourage the rest to do so.  The WAEMU governments have long recognized the importance of cooperation and coordination between their customs authorities, but they have nevertheless faced challenges in that area.  Implementation of the TFA should help in that regard.  We do note that only three of the governments have made Category A notifications to date, and none have made Category B or C notifications.  Given the benefits that will flow from fully implementing the TFA, we recommend this as an area of focused effort.

A core principle of the WTO is transparency, and the fulfilment of its various notification requirements is critical in this regard.  The WAEMU countries’ performance with respect to notifications needs significant improvement, as has been recognized by the WAEMU Member countries themselves.

Nowhere is transparency more important for engendering public confidence in proper governance than with respect to government procurement.  We are pleased to see that Côte d’Ivoire is considering observer status to the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA).  Observer status provides greater engagement opportunities with GPA members without requiring the taking on of obligations.  We would encourage all WAEMU members to consider requesting GPA observer status.  They have already sent an important signal in this area with the establishment of the Regional Government Procurement Observatory earlier this year.  An entity designed to independently monitor and evaluate national government procurement systems in the WAEMU, the observatory represents a great step towards adhering to WTO standards of transparency and due process.

We recognize the WAEMU’s ongoing efforts to establish consistent national sanitary and phytosanitary legislative texts, measures, and practices.  This is an area requiring continual focused attention.  The Secretariat report notes the absence or deficiency of SPS control capacity in most WAEMU countries.  The introduction of modern risk management approaches would lead to significant improvements in the WAEMU countries’ handling of SPS matters.  We call upon the WAEMU countries to more fully abide by their notification obligations under the WTO SPS Agreement, and we note that notifications of the outright import bans by some WAEMU countries on products such as meat and poultry must be accompanied by an explanation for the measure in accordance with Article 7 of the WTO SPS Agreement.

We are pleased to see that WAEMU member states have referenced the importance of the protection of intellectual property rights as part of the Common Trade Policy of the Union, and that they have devoted considerable effort over time to harmonizing and updating their intellectual property protection regimes to better conform to WTO TRIPS Agreement requirements.  We note that while all eight WAEMU governments have signed the Bangui Agreement of 2015, only one has ratified its signature to date.  We would recommend that the other WAEMU governments create a timeline for securing the ratification of the agreement.

While the WAEMU countries generally maintain open markets for service providers, they have undertaken few sectoral commitments under the GATS.  Such commitments send a positive signal to potential investors in a range of sectors which enhance competitiveness, so the governments may wish to consider undertaking them.

In closing, we wish to again thank the WAEMU governments and the Secretariat for their work on this review.  An eight-country review is inherently challenging (so we especially appreciate the work of the Secretariat and Discussant); yet, it permits a comprehensive perspective on the efforts of the governments to develop common approaches to policy matters on a regional basis.  Although we have highlighted several areas of concern and matters meriting greater focus, we do wish to recognize the WAEMU countries for the progress that they have made through working together to advance trade policy reform.

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