What is Africa’s Role in the International Trade Dispute Process?

A number of countries throughout Africa have experienced economic growth and thus, have become competitive players in the international market. The success of a number of African economies has been documented by institutions over the last five years such as McKinsey and Company and the Center for Global Development. While African countries have experienced economic growth, their role in protecting their interests in the global economy and shaping fair trade through the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement process remains quite small.

As African economies rise in the global context, two important questions remain: 1) How engaged are African countries in the WTO dispute settlement process? and 2) What can be done to ensure that these emerging markets also emerge as strong players in terms of ensuring fairness in the international trade system?

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The WTO dispute settlement process allows a country to bring a case against another WTO member that it finds is in violation of international trade rules. For example, this month, the United States filed a case against China for its alleged use of illegal export subsidies. In another case, Brazil filed a complaint against the United States for its cotton subsidies, which was finally resolved in October 2014 after a decade long dispute. The United States agreed to pay $300 million to Brazilian cotton farmers.

Government subsidies distort international trade and thus, are illegal. A number of studies have shown how many African countries have been negatively impacted by U.S. cotton subsidies (see my earlier post on subsidies and their impact on African countries). Nevertheless, not a single African country has brought a case to the WTO against these types of unfair trade practices. Rather, many of these same countries have joined cases brought by a larger developed or developing country. In other words, African countries mainly serve as third parties to international trade dispute cases (see the Appendix for the table highlighting the types of dispute cases that African countries are involved in).  To restrict the harmful effects of unfair trade practices, it is important for these growing African economies to understand and take part in the dispute settlement process.

Unfortunately, a number of challenges make it difficult for many of the countries to become more involved such as the lack of expertise and limited financial resources.

While financial resources will certainly help, technical assistance and training are also necessary to develop the capacity within any given African country to successfully challenge unfair trade practices on its own.

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Appendix:

African Countries and International Trade Dispute Cases

CountryDispute Cases: Complainant, Respondent and Case
BeninBrazil case against U.S. cotton subsidies (resolved October 2014)
CameroonEcuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, U.S. case against the European Community (EC) banana regime (resolved November 2012)
ChadBrazil case against U.S. cotton subsidies (resolved October 2014)
Côte d’Ivoire1) Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, U.S. case against the EC banana regime (resolved November 2012)

2) Australia, Brazil and Thailand cases against EC export subsidies on sugar (concluded May 2005)
Ghana Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, U.S. case against the EC banana regime (resolved November 2012)
Kenya Australia, Brazil and Thailand cases against EC export subsidies on sugar (concluded May 2005)
Madagascar 1) Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, U.S. case against the EC banana regime (resolved November 2012)

2) Australia, Brazil and Thailand cases against EC export subsidies on sugar (concluded May 2005)
Mauritius1) Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, U.S. case against the EC banana regime (resolved November 2012)

2) U.S. case against Mexico for dumping high fructose corn syrup (concluded November 2001)

2) India case against EC over the latter's conditions for granting tariff preferences to developing countries (concluded July 2005)

3) Australia, Brazil and Thailand cases against EC export subsidies on sugar (concluded May 2005)

NamibiaNorway case against EC Measures Prohibiting the Importation and Marketing of Seal Products (concluded June 2014)
Nigeria
1) India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Thailand case against the U.S. prohibition of certain shrimp and shrimp products (concluded November 2001)

2) Ukraine, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Indonesia cases against Australia Certain Measures Concerning Trademarks and Other Plain Packaging Requirements Applicable to Tobacco Products and Packaging (panel composed May 2014)
Senegal1) Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, U.S. case against the EC banana regime (resolved November 2012)

2) India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Thailand case against the U.S. prohibition of certain shrimp and shrimp products (concluded November 2001)
South Africa 1) Canada, Brazil cases against U.S. corn and other agricultural subsidies and export guarantees for agriculture (agreement to create a panel but panel members not chosen since December 2007)

2) Ukraine, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Indonesia cases against Australia Certain Measures Concerning Trademarks and Other Plain Packaging Requirements Applicable to Tobacco Products and Packaging (panel composed May 2014)

3) EU case against Brazil's taxation measures (agreement to create a panel but members not yet selected as of December 2014)

4) EU case against Russia's import measures for pork, live pigs and pig products (panel composed October 2014)
Swaziland Australia, Brazil and Thailand cases against EC export subsidies on sugar (concluded May 2005)
TanzaniaAustralia, Brazil and Thailand cases against EC export subsidies on sugar (concluded May 2005)
ZambiaUkraine, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Indonesia cases against Australia Certain Measures Concerning Trademarks and Other Plain Packaging Requirements Applicable to Tobacco Products and Packaging (panel composed May 2014)
Zimbabwe1) Canada case against EC measures on asbestos and products containing asbestos (concluded April 2001)

2) Ukraine, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Indonesia cases against Australia Certain Measures Concerning Trademarks and Other Plain Packaging Requirements Applicable to Tobacco Products and Packaging (panel composed May 2014)

*Note: The European Community (EC) refers to the various European international-level organizations that are incorporated under the present-day European Union (EU).

Source: World Trade Organization

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About Dr. Sarita D. Jackson

is the President and CEO of the Global Research Institute of International Trade, a think-tank/consulting firm that examines trade policies and their impact on domestic businesses. Prior to heading GRIIT, Dr. Jackson was a tenured associate professor of political science in North Carolina and worked as a trade policy consultant for an Arlington-based consulting firm. She has participated in trade policy projects and conducted research on free trade negotiations in Botswana, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Panama. Dr. Jackson has also traveled to Chile and Argentina to study their political systems and economic integration policies.
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