NWU-WTO Chairs Programme explores Africa’s trade potential

Ever since the World Trade Organisation Chairs Programme (WCP) was launched at the North-West University (NWU) some years ago within the TRADE research focus area, Africa has remained a key focus area for the WCP’s research and outreach activities. Although Africa is known to have the potential to become an economic powerhouse and trading hub, many trade opportunities remain untapped because countries often lack the means to identify them. Trade initiatives, though, cannot succeed in the absence of reliable information about export and supplier markets and related product opportunities. “Through the Chairs Programme we have been able to reach out to other WTO Chairs and contacts on the continent, working together to find new ways of unlocking trade potential, particularly at the regional level,” said Prof Wilma Viviers, WTO Chair holder since 2014. Dr Marie-Luce Kuhn from IBIS is proud to be part of the TRADE research team. Read more about the TRADE Research Focus Area here http://commerce.nwu.ac.za/trade

Prof Viviers has led a number of trade-related research and outreach initiatives on the continent, with the WCP team’s work in Rwanda, Cameroon and Tunisia being particularly interesting and rewarding. In each of these initiatives, the TRADE-DSM (Decision Support Model) market selection tool has been a core feature. Using the power of big data to reveal high-potential export opportunities, the TRADE-DSM is a cost-effective means of pinpointing export opportunities, which helps governments, industry sectors and businesses streamline and add certainty to their export market development efforts. Dr Richard Newfarmer, country director of the International Growth Center in Washington DC and also WCP Advisory Board member, says: “One of the unsung virtues of the WTO Chairs Programme has been its catalytic role in prompting South-South discussions on trade and cross-country learning. I was delighted to enlist the South African team’s support to provide analysis to Rwandan officials, and their 172-page report proved to be of enormous value.”

Rwanda is often held up as an example to the rest of Africa of what can be achieved when a country’s leadership has a strong growth and development mind-set. However, Rwanda faces significant challenges on the trade front as it is landlocked and its economy lacks diversity. The WCP team’s work with Rwandan policymakers is intended to help the country work through its challenges and boost its potential as a regional supplier. Using the TRADE-DSM, the WCP team has identified the top 25 products with export potential (in terms of value), spanning 16 different sectors. Prof Viviers and Mr Martin Cameron from Trade Advisory are working with the government of Cameroon and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, providing inputs for the revitalisation of Cameroon’s Industrialisation Plan, within the context of the African Continental Free Trade Area. Using the TRADE-DSM, Prof Viviers and Mr Cameron have been tasked to assess the trade potential of Cameroonian products in different markets (in the light of prevailing tariff and non-tariff barriers, and political and commercial risk). They are due to present a final report on their findings in March 2021. Prof Viviers and the WCP team are also collaborating with the WTO Chair in Tunisia in a three-year, bilateral research project aimed at identifying trade opportunities between South African and Tunisian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The focus on SMEs is particularly significant, given their economic importance and potential in both countries as well as the fact that they often find it difficult to pursue trade opportunities because of limited knowledge and resources. The project has a developmental element to it, aimed at preparing selected groups of SMEs in each country to leverage the identified bilateral export opportunities through information sharing, direct engagement and capacity-building.

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