Joining the WTO will reduce the diverse economy that the Ethiopian government has been fostering. But if the government feels that WTO membership is necessary, then Ethiopia must take it’s time to negotiate more favorable terms in line with its development status and objectives. In particular, Ethiopia should not make the same mistakes as other newly joined nations and should not agree to undertake higher levels of commitments than is made absolutely necessary by the WTO rules and what other founding LDCs, such as Bangladesh, have made. Specifically, Ethiopia should seek to ensure that tariffs are bound at the highest rates possible.
In my view, one simple and safe guiding principle for Caribbean states could be whether the proposals on the table advance or diminish the protections guaranteed by the rule of law. These protections include: supremacy of law, equality, accountability, fairness, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency. Using this as the guiding principle, small states can meaningfully contribute to the debate.
The Agreement establishes a Dispute Settlement Mechanism that seeks to settle state-level disputes. Such mechanism is to be administered in tandem with the provisions of the Protocol on Rules and Procedures on the Settlement of Disputes (the Protocol). The Protocol aims at providing a ‘transparent, accountable, fair, predictable, and consistent dispute settlement process.’ Article 8 of the Protocol permits disputing state parties to voluntarily undertake conciliatory measures in a bid to amicably resolve the dispute in the event consultations, which are not strictly compulsory according to the language of Article 6(6), fail.
Even setting aside funding issues, the failure to creatively blend the dispute settlement mechanisms that already exist at the sub-regional level with what has worked with disputes in the global trading system is perhaps the biggest handicap the new dispute settlement system established by the AfCFTA is likely to suffer. There is certainly no harm in trying to out this system, but because most of the experience and expertise in handling trade disputes and matters has been at the sub-regional level, the new AfCFTA Dispute Resolution Mechanism has a lot to learn from the sub-regional level.
The AfCFTA-DSM will be nestled in a culture of African States that does no pursue formal settlement of trade disputes before judicial or quasi-judicial bodies. Given the dearth of core economic integration disputes before the African regional economic community courts; and, the failure of previous WTO-like DSM transplanted at the regional level, what potential if any, has the AfCFTA-DSM to chart a new course? Similarly, what can we garner about the culture of African States towards trade disputes?