The UN is opening a new trade office in Ethiopia in a bid to boost lagging commerce between African nations.
Addis Ababa will play host to a regional office of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, which will disburse advice to policymakers and other professionals.
The new office will be headed by Joy Kategekwa, a former Ugandan official with the World Trade Organisation.
Kategekwa led the WTO’s support efforts for African delegations at the crucial Doha round of trade talks, an ambitious global effort to lower barriers which ultimately stalled as a result of disagreements between developed and developing nations.
Kategekwa, who also previously worked on trade issues at Oxfam and represented Uganda in its permanent mission to the United Nations, said the office would deliver support to the African Union Commission and member states as they negotiate a Continental Free Trade Area.
Policymakers are mired in tough negotiations in a bid to establish the CFTA by 2017. It has been estimated that the initiative could stimulate intra-African trade by up to $35 billion per year.
Despite a significant increase in trade between Africa and other global regions, intra-African trade has yet to catch on. According to UN figures, the share of intra-African trade in Africa’s total trade over the past decade was about 11%, compared to 21% for Latin America and the Caribbean, 50% for developing Asia and 70% for Europe.
In a recent policy paper, UNCTAD said that failures to implement regional trade agreements had held back the continent’s trade agenda. The organisation urged African governments to set more realistic goals and timelines for new agreements, while reducing the number of overlapping regional economic communities.
Mukhisa Kituyi, secretary-general of UNCTAD, said the new office would help to turn trade discussions into workable policy goals.
“Africa is at a crossroads in its trade agenda. Never has the political momentum and support for deeper trade integration been higher on the continent…Having UNCTAD on the ground provides Africa the opportunity to use UNCTAD’s extensive technical and analytical resources,” he said.