Small countries make big progress with trade

Terrence Simfukwe is a trade adviser seconded to Belize’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He’s there as part of the Hub and Spokes Programme. The programme provides trade experts to national ministries and regional trade organisations in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states. Prior to his posting in 2016, he was principal economist for foreign trade in Zambia’s Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry. Here he outlines Belize’s efforts to develop a national trade policy.

Supporting Belize with trade policy

“Belize is the only country in Central America with English as an official language. A member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 1995 and a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Belize has been an active participant in regional and multilateral trade. To the east lies the Caribbean Sea, a gateway to the Atlantic, while to the north is Mexico and, beyond that, the United States. The country’s western and southern regions border Guatemala, linking the country to South American markets.

“At the core of Belize’s economy are the agro processing and tourism sectors, contributing significantly to foreign exchange earnings and employment. Exports of goods and services today contribute as much as 57 percent to GDP, while merchandise trade (imports and exports) make up a staggering 81 percent of GDP (World Bank-WDI 2017).

“Despite the importance of trade to the economy, Belize does not yet have a national policy on trade. The government, therefore, recognising that policy coherence on trade is vitally important to national development and economic management, has embarked on a process to establish a National Trade Policy in order to stimulate growth and investment.”

A policy that will help Belize flourish

“In seeking to establish a National Trade Policy, the government in 2014 secured assistance from the European Union through the European Development Fund facility for the development of a Trade Policy Framework. Approved by the Cabinet, the framework was instrumental in securing technical assistance from the Commonwealth Secretariat, through which I was hired as a national trade adviser in 2016 to lead and coordinate the development process of the National Trade Policy.

“This year, in 2017, with my assistance, the government has formally embarked on a process of formulating the National Trade Policy. The consultation process to develop the policy has so far engaged public, private, civil society and other stakeholders through various mechanisms. It is expected that the policy will be launched by mid-2018.

Merchandise trade (imports and exports) make up a staggering 81 percent of GDP (World Bank-WDI 2017).

Terrence Simfukwe, Trade Adviser to Belize’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade

“If implemented effectively, the government believes the National Trade Policy will galvanise domestic trade and improve Belize’s integration in the Central American economic system. It will encourage private sector partnerships to grow the economy and provide a harmonious interface between Belize and the regional and multilateral trading system. It will also help to develop and improve other peripheral legislative frameworks and regimes that augment trade development.

“The policy will also support and augment medium- to long-term national development plans and objectives as enshrined in Belize’s Growth and Sustainable Development Strategy (GSDS), and build a competitive economy with a well-managed public policy which is supportive of entrepreneurship, small and medium enterprises and private sector growth. It will be a blueprint for enhancing socio-economic development through trade.”

More progress in helping small states to develop, 2015-2017

The Commonwealth has been relentless in its efforts to strengthen the resilience of small states through advocating for the recognition and inclusion of their vulnerability in international processes and mechanisms.

In 2016, those efforts bore fruit: the World Bank prioritised a three-year work programme to examine the inclusion of vulnerability as a criterion for concessional financing. The World Bank is working on this with the Secretariat and other partners.

The establishment of the Small States Centre of Excellence also progressed. We installed a technical adviser in January 2016. In collaboration with officials from the Government of Malta and the Small States team, the technical adviser has advanced work in the following areas for the centre:

  • organisational design
  • tailoring information and communications technology (ICT) platforms
  • engaging experts for capacity-building solutions
  • fostering strategic partnerships.

The centre is expected to be fully established and operational after CHOGM 2018.

In 2015/16, two high-profile international forums acknowledged the sustainable development needs of small states and reflected policy statements developed by Commonwealth members.

The first was the UN’s Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FFD) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in July 2015. It produced the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA), which acknowledged the challenges that small island developing states (SIDS) face in financing their development. The AAAA reflected the views of Commonwealth small states concerning general vulnerability and challenges, capacity constraints, small domestic markets, access to international finance and middle-income country challenges of SIDS.

The March 2015 FFD conference held by the Secretariat agreed and articulated priorities to be taken forward to Addis Ababa, as well as an advocacy strategy for the 31 Commonwealth small states at the conference. The conference provided an opportunity for small states to advance their interests by increasing awareness of the issues. References to the issues affecting small states increased substantially between the zero draft issued before the Commonwealth conference and the final AAAA published in July 2015.

In addition, the Secretariat and Commonwealth leaders received significant recognition during COP21. Secretariat funding enabled a co-ordinator to travel to COP21 and support the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) pavilion during the negotiations. This allowed the Secretariat to use the AOSIS pavilion to raise the profile of its work and hold a side event.

The Fourth Global Biennial Conference on Small States held in Mahé, Seychelles, in May 2016 drew 70 participants from 19 member countries, and 22 regional and international development partners. Participants reflected on current and emerging priorities for small states and considered strategies for exploiting global opportunities with the aim of strengthening resilience of small states. The outcomes of the meeting will be incorporated into the Secretariat’s work plan for next year.

The Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG), comprising 11 Commonwealth member states, met following the above conference. It is due to meet again in September to prepare an advocacy strategy paper to ensure the consistent messaging of small states’ priorities. The OEWG is currently being institutionalised through the formal links of other internal structures to advocate the development priorities of the small states through consistent messaging in international and regional platforms.

The Commonwealth’s publication Building the Resilience of Small States: A Strategic Vision for the Caribbean 2050 project, was launched at the conference. A draft report was shared at CARICOM’s Heads of Government meeting and will be incorporated into the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP’s) Development Framework.

Work also began on the Pacific 2050 Vision Project. This will undertake research on key regional developmental issues. We will use the research findings to challenge policymakers and stakeholders so that they apply fresh thinking and craft a vision to overcome such issues.

We made an assessment of gaps in governance and recommended policy support and actions resulting from the resilience-profiling exercise in the Caribbean. We shared it with JamaicaGrenadaSaint Lucia and Barbados. Further profiling exercises took place in Papua New GuineaSolomon IslandsTongaSamoa and Seychelles.

At CHOGM 2015, Heads of Government recognised the added value that the Small States Centre of Excellence would provide to promoting the interests of small states and delivering targeted capacity-building programmes. Progress was made in establishing the centre in Malta, and we completed a feasibility study. The Government of Malta and the Commonwealth Secretariat signed a memorandum of understanding at the Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministers Meeting in New York in September 2016.

“This year, in 2017, with my assistance, the government has formally embarked on a process of formulating the National Trade Policy” – Terrence Simfukwe, Trade Adviser to Belize’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade