China’s WTO deputy chief says African nations ‘risk’ missing chance to reshape trade rules

·3-min read

More African nations should consider joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) or risk missing the opportunity to influence global trade rules, said China’s Zhang Xiangchen, a deputy director general at the organisation.

Zhang, who was appointed as a deputy to WTO director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in May, said the share of African countries in global trade has declined over the years.

“It’s risky for developing countries to stay outside the stiff competition in reshaping international trade rules, therefore developing countries should actively engage in making new international trade rules to safeguard their interests,” said Zhang at the second China-Africa Economic Trade Expo in the central Chinese city of Changsha on Sunday.

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The benefits that China has seen since joining the body in 2001 could serve as a “reference” for African countries, even though the multilateral trading system had “flaws”, he said via video link.

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“Africa is the only continent that is not yet integrated into the global economy,” Zhang said. “Currently more than a dozen African countries in particular, some important economies, including Ethiopia, Sudan, and South Sudan, are still not WTO members.

But he added it was “no surprise” that some African nations were hesitant to be part of “global trade liberalisation”, as the gains of globalisation have been unevenly distributed and integrating with the international trade system required substantial reform.

Calls have been growing across the board for reform of the WTO in recent years, including from China which is concerned about unilateral measures from some countries that circumnavigate international trade rules and the paralysis of the organisation’s Appellate Body, which arbitrates global trade disputes.

Before becoming deputy director general, Zhang served as China’s permanent representative to the WTO and previously as deputy permanent representative. His appointment in May highlighted China’s growing importance within the WTO, analysts said.

Speaking earlier, Yang Jiechi, a member of the Communist Party’s Politburo, said China would continue to deepen its ties with Africa in trade, infrastructure investment and efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Chinese companies would be encouraged to partner with African nations to jointly produce Covid-19 vaccines on the continent, Yang said in his opening remarks.

China, which is Africa’s biggest trading partner, will boost imports of African products, including farm goods, and expand technology transfers and cooperation in areas such as 5G and data centres, he said.

Beijing signed a free-trade agreement with the government of Mauritius in January – its first ever with an African nation – and has said it is open to reaching similar deals with other countries on the continent.

Xie Chi, vice-president of Hunan University, said more free-trade deals would help China “fill in the gaps” in Africa, allowing for greater integration of industrial and supply chains.

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