ADDIS ABABA, African ministers of trade have held discussion in Ethiopia this wee on priority issues for the continent under the current Doha Development Round of multilateral trade talks under the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The Ministers used their gathering in the Ethiopian capital Monday to also discuss new issues currently being proposed in the WTO, such as e-commerce and investment facilitation. The meeting was held under the auspices of the Informal Meeting of African Union (AU) Ministers of Trade on the WTO, which was jointly hosted by South African Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies and the AU Commission.

The meeting, which was held at the AU Commission headquarters here provided an opportunity for the Ministers to consolidate Africa's positions ahead of the WTO Mini-Ministerial Meeting, which will be held in Marrakech, Morocco, next month, and the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC11), which will be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in December.

Davies told the meeting there remains a level of ambiguity regarding the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) in the WTO, given that there are some countries challenging the existing mandate. He added there are a number of proposals on subjects under consideration in the WTO, such as domestic support, which moves away from the principles agreed to under the DDA.

The DDA is the latest trade negotiation round of the WTO, which began nearly 16 years ago in November 2001. Its objective is to lower trade barriers around the world to facilitate increased global trade.

We also have new issues being proposed such as e-commerce, investment facilitation and transparency, which entail new rules. We need MC11 to reaffirm multilateralism in our rule-making, but one that considers a common set of challenges and looks at higher levels of inclusive growth and not one where some members are more equal than others, said Davies.

He said the Informal Meeting reaffirmed the importance of concluding the outstanding DDA issues. On the new issues being proposed for rule-making in the WTO, the meeting agreed that there was no negotiating mandate on the new issues. It is premature to consider multilateral rules on e-commerce and in South Africa's view, priority should be given to cooperation, addressing the digital divide and exploring options for promoting digital industrial policy, he said.

Meanwhile, South African Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Bulelani Mangwanishe welcomed the analysis from the South Centre and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), as well as the support extended to African countries to develop and defend policy positions of developing countries ahead of MC11.

This is particularly important in view of Africa's development and economic growth aspirations, as espoused in the African Union's Agenda 2063, he said.

Reiterating the need to preserve the multilateral trading system, he said this must support the industrial development imperatives of African economies and provide the necessary policy space that will allow countries to implement measures needed for structural changes to their economies to ensure sustainable and inclusive growth.

The preservation in the WTO of policy space for industrial development, therefore, is a key priority for South Africa and developing economies, he added.

On Investment Facilitation (IF) and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), the Ministers agreed that rules on Investment Facilitation and MSMEs are not aligned to Africa's programmes but primarily intrude on domestic policy and regulation.

The outcomes of the meeting and a draft Declaration on the WTO issues are expected to be considered by a formal sitting of the African Ministers of Trade prior to MC11.