NAIROBI, Kenya–War-torn Afghanistan and Ebola-ravaged Liberia are set to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) as it holds its first ministerial conference in Africa, opening Tuesday in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. “This conference will boost trade and investment, create employment and ultimately contribute to poverty eradication,” Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a welcome message, calling the meeting “historic and crucial.” But he also stressed the need for African countries to diversify their economies. “National, regional and multilateral policy choices that we make will matter,” Kenyatta said. “The choices and positions we take will have consequences.” Security is tight for the conference, with some 6,000 delegates in Nairobi. Kenya has been hit by a string of Islamist attacks by al-Qaida’s East Africa branch, the Somali-led al-Shabab, but last month hosted Pope Francis, while in July, U.S. President Barack Obama visited. ‘Breakthrough seems unlikely’
The four-day Nairobi meeting comes two years after ministers from WTO member countries reached a landmark deal in Bali on overhauling global customs procedures. The 2013 pact was the first multilateral agreement concluded by the WTO since its inception in 1995, and also the first concrete progress since the Doha Round of trade liberalization talks began.
“We took 18 years to deliver our first multi-lateral agreement in Bali, that’s way too long, we can’t wait another 18 years to deliver again,” WTO chief Roberto Azevedo told reporters Tuesday. But there are few signs that countries will be able build on the momentum gained in Bali to carve out even a limited deal in Nairobi. Insiders say negotiators will focus on trying to nail down a partial deal focused on agriculture export competition and trade development in the world’s poorest nations, but admit the chances of succeeding are shaky at best.