U.S. Statement at the WTO Trade Policy Review of Guinea & Mauritania

WTO_OMC centeredStatement by Ambassador Dennis Shea,
Deputy U.S. Trade Representative and U.S. Permanent Representative to the WTO

Geneva, May 29, 2018

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The United States welcomes Secretary General Cisse and Minister Hamdi Ould Mouknass and their respective delegations to this, Guinea’s fourth and Mauritania’s third WTO Trade Policy Review.  We appreciate the Secretariat’s thorough examination of both governments’ trade policy regimes. We also appreciate the detailed reports submitted by the governments of Guinea and Mauritania.  The United States is also pleased to welcome Ambassador Sanz Serrano in his role as discussant for this TPR, and we wish to thank him for sharing his views on the trade policy regimes of these two nations.

The United States considers this Trade Policy Review process to be of value to all Members, and indeed the United States looks forward to its own review at the end of this year.  We consider the process to hold particular value for LDC Members as a means of advancing their integration into the WTO system.  While we recognize the challenges this process involves for all Members, including LDC’s, we hope that the Mauritanian and Guinean delegations will nonetheless be able to depart Geneva with a renewed sense of attachment to the system.  We regret not receiving responses to our questions at this time, but look forward to receiving them as promised.

Both Guinea and Mauritania have faced challenges over the review period caused by the global decline in commodity prices earlier this decade, and Guinea also had to deal with the scourge of the Ebola epidemic.  We are pleased to see that both have rebounded and are on a trajectory of steady economic growth.  Both governments have worked to move up in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business rankings, undertaking reforms in a number of areas such as streamlining customs procedures.  However, neither government has ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement nor have they submitted Category A, B, or C notifications.  The TFA provides for fundamental customs reforms that can spur trade flows, which in turn encourages investment.  We urge both governments to follow through in order to reap those advantages.

We see some similarities in the issues and experiences reflected in the two countries’ reviews.  Guinea is participating in the common external tariff of the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, as Mauritania has committed to do so as part of its Association Agreement with ECOWAS.  We strongly support deeper regional integration among African nations, given 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.  We note that both Guinea and Mauritania have only bound a low percentage of their tariff lines in the WTO, which contributes to an environment of business uncertainty. Also, as the Secretariat has noted, the countries are applying numerous customs duties that exceed their bound rates.  In addition, both governments are applying other duties and charges in contravention of their bindings.  We look to the governments to remedy this situation and suggest they work with the Secretariat as needed to do so.  We also look forward to learning details on how the 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.

Both governments have ratified a number of WIPO treaties.  We understand Mauritania has ratified the 2015 Bangui Agreement and encourage Guinea to do so as well.  We call on both governments to notify the WTO of their legislation on intellectual property rights, to ratify the Protocol Amending the TRIPS Agreement, and to designate a contact point under Article 69 of the TRIPS Agreement.  We would also ask both governments to consider ways to improve enforcement of intellectual property rights domestically, such as through increasing public awareness and improving border controls.

The notification requirements of the WTO serve an important function in promoting transparency, which in turn fosters a more hospitable investment climate.  The Secretariat noted that Guinea has never submitted a notification on import licensing even though the government of Guinea subjects all merchandise imports to an automatic license for statistical purposes.  The Guinean government could remedy this by submitting its Annual Questionnaire Notification to the Import Licensing Committee.

The Government of Mauritania has failed to notify almost anything pursuant to its WTO obligations for the last 16 years, including with respect to import licensing, technical standards, agriculture, state trading enterprises, and intellectual property. Secretariat capacity building training would help remediate the situation, but Mauritania is not eligible due to its arrears in its membership contributions to the WTO.  We can appreciate that Mauritania is resource-constrained but the return on investment from fuller participation in the WTO could be significant for the country.  Meeting the WTO’s transparency requirements should be a fundamental part of Mauritania’s strategy to become a more attractive place to invest and do business.

The Secretariat report makes brief mention of Mauritania strengthening a law criminalizing “bonded labor.”  While this was a positive development, my government, along with a number of other governments and international organizations, has indicated to the Mauritanian government that it needs to make further reforms in this area.  There is no place for modern slavery in the 21stcentury.

In closing Mr. Chairman, the United States wishes to acknowledge the advances and reforms made by both the Mauritanian and Guinean governments during the review period notwithstanding a number of challenges.  We commend their efforts at deeper integration with the West African region and within the Continent as a whole.  As we have noted, much work remains, such as in meeting their transparency commitments in the WTO and in meeting their obligations relating to WTO tariff bindings.  We look forward to working with them on these and other areas.  Finally, we offer Guinea and Mauritania our best wishes for a successful TPR.

 

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