Case Study 27: How Regional Economic Communities can Facilitate Participation in the WTO: The Experience of Mauritius and Zambia

08/07/2020    29

I. Introduction 

Since the conclusion of the Uruguay Round and the establishment of the WTO, the active participation of developing countries in the multilateral trading system has increasingly been recognized as a crucial element for their development as well as an imperative to ensure the legitimacy and sustainability of the world trade regime. Yet many poor countries do not have the capacity to influence significantly the WTO negotiations or to implement the commitments agreed multilaterally. They still face major challenges to determining and defending their positions in technical negotiations, even on issues which are of key strategic interest to them. Indeed, the unprecedented depth and breadth of issues discussed in the current Doha Development Round have put the capacity of the developing countries (DCs), both at home and in their Geneva missions (for those that can afford to have one), under extraordinary pressure in effectively managing the process of their participation in these WTO negotiations.

Recognizing the key potential role of international trade for their sustainable development, many DCs entered into various bilateral and regional trade agreements and followed a dual path of multilateralism and regionalism.

The specific question addressed in this case study is the extent to which the participation of DCs in regional economic communities (RECs) has facilitated, or on the contrary hampered, their participation in the WTO. Regional co-operation and co-ordination among DCs can be construed as a way of pooling scarce resources and create synergies. Regional institutions may provide the necessary support and appropriate forum for countries to exchange views, share information, generate technical analysis and policy input, define and when relevant co-ordinate positions and identify best practices. Working at the regional level may also offer the opportunity to connect WTO positions to regional strategies and stimulate positive spillovers between these two levels of negotiations. On the other hand, regional organizations and agendas can also divert national resources away from the WTO process towards the regional integration process or bi-regional trade negotiations. In this respect, regional co-operation can proceed at the expense of participation in the WTO.

To address these issues, the study focuses on two countries, Mauritius and Zambia, and the two regional communities to which they both belong, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). Mauritius has a track record of being one of the most effective trade negotiators in Africa, being a key player at regional level, as well as in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group and in the current negotiations of an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). Zambia, as a least developed country (LDC), has encountered greater difficulties in its participation in international trade negotiations. Yet, in spite of serious capacity constraints, Zambia has so far managed to remain a committed player. COMESA is intending to move towards a customs union soon. SADC, whose political dimension is predominant for the time being, gives priority to the implementation of its Trade Protocol.

This two-country two-region case study offers a comparative illustration of how regional integration processes and regional negotiations affect the preparation for and participation of members in the WTO. On the basis of interviews with a range of key actors involved in the trade policy-making process at the national, regional and Geneva level, the study attempts to address some of the following questions: Does the regional dimension help countries to co-ordinate their positions at the WTO, or are national interests and non-regional alliances predominant? Do regional secretariats provide solid technical support and analysis to help member countries take positions on certain (overlapping) issues in the WTO? And is the preparation on WTO-related issues at the regional level a complement to or a substitute for national preparation? Has the increased attention and external (trade capacity building) support for regional integration and bi-regional negotiations also contributed to facilitate the analysis and formulation of positions at the WTO? Or, on the contrary, are the two levels of negotiation (WTO, regional) competing for limited domestic capacities and resources?

II. The national and regional players and their roles 

Actors in the WTO trade policy process

Negotiations at the WTO take place in the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) and its various sub-committees or regular WTO councils present in Geneva. The actual generation of proposals and positions in the WTO is a bottom-up process whereby input is generated at national and regional levels with numerous stages of consultation and co-ordination before it is finally delivered to Geneva. Overall, this policy process involves a broad range of state and non-state actors that should have the opportunity to provide input. A simplified scheme of this policy process from the national to the Geneva level is depicted in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Input into the WTO from the capital to Geneva

Many DCs, however, face considerable obstacles in this policy process. The human and financial resource constraints with respect to the dense agenda of negotiations in Geneva, their representation and the generation of substantial input at the national level constitute major hurdles. Some do not maintain a permanent mission in Geneva, and even for those that do it is still impossible to participate in the multitude of meetings and to follow the complete agenda.(1)

Co-operation, co-ordination and the pooling of resources with countries that have similar interests is therefore of vital importance for the effective participation of many DCs in the WTO. Whereas the formation of coalitions by DCs is not a new feature in multilateral trade negotiations, the most recent Ministerial Conferences in Seattle, Doha and Cancún have shown these coalitions to be better organized and more pro-active than before. They manage to share information better, preserve internal cohesion and engage in co-ordination with other groupings.(2) A brief overview of the WTO coalitions is provided in Annex I, while Table 1 shows the extent to which Mauritius and Zambia are involved in WTO coalition groupings, as well as the degree to which their affiliation matches those of their fellow COMESA and SADC members.

Table 1
Participation in WTO coalitions





SADC (13)**

WTO coalition groupings*



(number of members in coalition)

(number of members in coalition)


(x = member)








ACP Group





Africa Group










Friends of Multifunctionality















Like Minded Group (LMG)




















WTO member







+3 observers



* All coalition groupings are issue-specific groupings, with the notable exception of the G90, ACP Group, Africa Group and LDCs which cover horizontal (cross-cutting) issues. Annex I provides a short description and membership of all the main WTO coalition groupings.
** After completing its accession, Madagascar will become the fourteenth member of SADC (while remaining a COMESA member).

Clearly, whereas both Mauritius and Zambia affiliate to various coalition groupings, these groupings do not always match well with the strategic interests of other REC members. The fault lines of some strategic interests as represented by the coalitions cut right through the RECs.

Actors at the national levels: Mauritius and Zambia 


Mauritius has considerable human and financial resources as well as significant experience as a result of its active involvement in international trade fora over the last decades. The process of its trade and overall economic policy-making has been well documented.(3) The country has considerable experience in participatory (trade) policy-making processes. Both private-sector and trade union representatives take part in a number of trade-related committees (e.g. the Committee of Agriculture and International Trade) and are regularly included in delegations to WTO Ministerial Conferences and regional meetings. The views of these committees flow into a core group which is chaired by the permanent secretary to the Trade Minister. At the highest level, it is the WTO’s Standing Co-ordination Committee — chaired by the Trade Minister — that involves actors from various ministries and a number of private-sector actors. Ultimately, it is the minister who either decides on a particular position or refers the issue to the cabinet for approval or adaptation.

A position on a WTO issue can either be submitted directly to relevant WTO committees, or it can be co-ordinated and possibly adapted in a coalition grouping, after which it is submitted on behalf of the coalition. On general issues, Mauritius works mostly within the Africa Group whereas on specific issues the G10, the G33 and the Multifunctionality Group are referred to.


As an LDC Zambia has faced more constraints on its participation, but supported by donors and international agencies it has moved to reform its policy-making process and institutions.

The Zambian Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry is responsible for conducting trade policy. It faces serious (human) resource constraints, in particular at the technical level.

Consultation with public- and private-sector stakeholders used to be organized in an ad hoc fashion, but since June 2004 a National Working Group on Trade (NWGT) has been established. In the NWGT, six government and six private-sector institutions have a seat. As for WTO coalitions, Zambia works predominantly with the G33 and the G90. Within the latter group it is a member of all three sub-groupings (the ACP group, the Africa group and the LDC group).

The regional level: COMESA and SADC 

Mauritius and Zambia are members of both the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).(4) As can be seen in Figure 2, membership of multiple regional organizations is common among nearly all countries in eastern and southern Africa.

Figure 2. Regional groupings in east and southern Africa


Established in 1994, COMESA currently comprises twenty member states: Angola, Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Many member states also belong to other regional organizations such as the SADC, the Eastern African Community (EAC), the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

Heads of state form the principal authority for COMESA’s policy direction. The Council of Ministers, which receives recommendations from the Intergovernmental Committee, decides on operational issues and is responsible for the COMESA Secretariat. The task of the Secretariat is to provide advisory services and technical support to member states in the implementation of the COMESA Treaty.

COMESA’s main focus is on strengthening regional integration through promotion of cross-border trade and investment. It has programmes on trade and transport facilitation, trade in services, free movement of persons and investment. Other features include gender policy, conflict prevention and a COMESA Court of Justice. In October 2000, nine COMESA member states moved towards a free trade area.(5) The objective is to move towards a customs union from 2004 onwards. Two other countries (Rwanda and Burundi) joined the COMESA FTA in January 2004, taking membership to eleven. All other COMESA members (except Swaziland, as a member of SACU) offer preferential access to their markets to all COMESA member states.

For WTO questions, COMESA has established a Working Group on WTO issues, which operates as a sub-committee of the COMESA Trade and Customs Committee. The core functions of this Working Group are to provide technical back-up and analysis of WTO issues and to suggest appropriate recommendations.

COMESA also facilitates EPA negotiations with the EU for sixteen ESA countries (i.e. all COMESA members except Egypt, Angola and Swaziland).


Established in 1992, the SADC currently counts thirteen member states: Angola, Botswana, DRC, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, after the Seychelles left in 2004.

SADC is a development community with a broad range of objectives varying from self-sustained development, economic growth and poverty alleviation to common political values, systems and institutions. As in COMESA, SADC heads of state and the Council of Ministers are overall responsible for the general policy direction of the organization as well as for policy implementation. The SADC Secretariat is the principal executive institution, responsible for strategic planning, co-ordination and management of SADC programmes. In 2001, SADC underwent serious restructuring, giving the Secretariat a more expanded mandate and increasing the number of staff. The previous Sector Co-ordinating Units (dispersed over the member states) are now centralized in the SADC Secretariat in Gaborone, Botswana, and merged into only four directorates.

The trade, industry, finance and investment (TIFI) cluster works on trade and economic integration and focuses on stimulating the implementation by the member states of the 1996 SADC Trade Protocol. The implementation of the Protocol should lead to the liberalization of 85% of all regional goods trade by 2008, the liberalization of regional services trade in six priority sectors, the elimination of non-tariff trade barriers, and the harmonization of standards, customs rules and procedures. The objective is to have moved by 2012 towards a customs union with a common external tariff and trade policy. The Secretariat also seeks to facilitate member states’ compliance with WTO policies and agreements as well as help prepare the negotiations for a SADC-EU economic partnership agreement (EPA).

III. Regional support and co-ordination 

For the participation of a country in the WTO negotiations to have any significant value, a two-stage policy process must be in place. First, countries need to be able to identify their strategic interests and be informed about the consequences of the various policy options open to them. This first stage requires proper capacity to analyze and formulate trade policy and negotiation positions. The second stage of the trade policy process consists of the identification of a negotiation strategy. This includes the formation of alliances and coalitions with partners that share common views and trade interests. Strategies must be flexible and reaction time limited, so as to adapt to the rapidly evolving negotiation environment. These two stages should not be seen as independent but rather as complementary.

In this process, the regional dimension can usefully come into play. First, regional organizations can support the preparatory work of their member states. The co-ordination of trade capacity building programmes, the organization of regional workshops, the elaboration of technical papers and the dissemination of information on WTO issues are examples of such supportive activities. Regional platforms may also contribute to facilitating the exchange of information and sharing of experiences among neighbouring countries.

Second, regional groupings may have a role to play in helping their member countries to co-ordinate their position at WTO level, in a way consistent with their regional integration and trade policy objectives. Regional organizations might co-ordinate the burden sharing among countries in following and actively engaging in a heavy WTO agenda which few, if any, DCs can adequately tackle on their own.

In the case of Mauritius and Zambia, let us consider in turn the roles that the two main regional economic communities, COMESA and SADC, have played in their participation to the WTO.

Trade capacity building support from the regions 

Direct support on WTO issues

While both regional organizations have contributed to the strengthening of capacity and the preparation of national actors for WTO negotiations, there is a general recognition, in COMESA and SADC secretariats, and among key actors in Mauritius and Zambia, that more could be done.

In COMESA, Ministerial conferences, and high-level meetings that bring together trade experts, senior officials and Geneva ambassadors have been organized on trade and WTO issues. The purposes of such meetings have been to provide a broad overview of the state of the WTO negotiations, to discuss more technical or systemic issues of relevance to the members and, when appropriate, to formulate recommendations for the national ministers on their strategy and position for the negotiations. As such, there is no COMESA common position at the WTO (see below). These meetings are therefore primarily designed to support member countries in their preparation for the WTO negotiations. They also provide a useful platform for officials to exchange views and information.

The COMESA Secretariat has developed handbooks, conference proceedings and reports on WTO issues and distributed these to its members in preparation for WTO Ministerial Conferences. The Secretariat has conducted specific studies for trade ministries of COMESA members and has provided direct input on specific WTO issues (e.g. on WTO rules and on Ethiopia’s accession to the WTO) to some of their Geneva-based missions, as well as to the Africa Group and the African Union (AU). However, this technical support has been given on an ad hoc basis as a result of specific requests.

Given that members have not often called on the COMESA Secretariat, its role has been limited in the preparation for WTO negotiations. Moreover, donors’ activities on trade capacity building for WTO issues have mainly been channelled through national programmes (e.g. JITAP), somewhat neglecting the regional dimension. Nonetheless, COMESA has developed programmes and projects on trade capacity building for its members on WTO-related issues such as trade negotiations, customs valuation and facilitation, notifications and so on. Finally, it is worth noting that although the COMESA Secretariat is quite knowledgeable on WTO issues, some COMESA countries are actually better equipped and have more expertise and experience at the national level to deal with WTO matters.

In SADC, trade issues have traditionally received less attention than in COMESA, as SADC has a broader mandate, encompassing development and political dimensions. In addition, SADC restructuring process which is centralizing the programmes that were previously managed by the member states has not yet been fully completed. The Secretariat remains understaffed and with insufficient financial and technical means and absorption capacity to cope with an increasing regional agenda. In these conditions, it is difficult for the SADC Secretariat to contribute significantly to strengthening the trade capacity of its member states on WTO issues.

Despite the absence of an SADC programme dedicated to addressing WTO issues systematically for the region, the SADC Secretariat has organized a number of activities that have directly concerned the WTO. In response to requests from member states, and with technical assistance from UNCTAD, specific support has been provided on the issue of trade in services. The work concerned the identification of key service sectors and the drafting of a legal framework to facilitate the intra-regional liberalization of services. A study on domestic agricultural support measures was also carried out, with the aim of facilitating a regional position on this issue and was later used as background material for the WTO negotiations.

As with COMESA, the activities on WTO matters directly attributed to the Secretariat have mainly consisted of formal meetings in preparation for WTO Ministerial Conferences. In addition, the SADC Secretariat has also been collaborating with the Southern Africa Trade Research Network (SATRN). This network organizes an annual symposium on WTO issues and brings together researchers as well as policy-makers and negotiators from the SADC region to share views on WTO issues and developments.

In both Mauritius and Zambia support from COMESA and SADC has been useful, though limited. One of the main benefits of COMESA and SADC WTO-related activities has been the engagement process they have generated. Regional and national officials alike recognize that bringing national officers, diplomats and ministers together to provide general input on WTO matters has contributed to raise the political profile of WTO, and more generally trade matters. It has increased awareness on some general technical matters. At the level of Geneva missions to the WTO, the direct input from COMESA has gained visibility. Other technical support targeted trade officials in capitals, but might not always have trickled down to Geneva. Some national officials acknowledged that COMESA tended to be more responsive and proactive than SADC, the COMESA Secretariat being perhaps better equipped to tackle technical issues. In both regions, however, the support was generally provided on an ad hoc basis. It seems to have been better suited to increasing the understanding of the WTO process rather than to providing in-depth analysis which could directly input into the national technical preparation. Interestingly, the regional secretariats, COMESA in particular, noted the lack of explicit demands from member states for dedicated input on WTO issues. The secretariats therefore are left with little guidance for determining their technical work plan. This tends to suggest that the potential value added of regions in the WTO preparation of member states is not yet fully identified. It was also suggested that the regional support on WTO matters might have a greater impact on countries with weaker capacities.

More generally, awareness-raising activities and regional training of officials on trade-related matters seem to have been useful trade capacity building measures, with little distinction between WTO and non-WTO issues, generating valuable synergies in the preparation of national officials. To have a real impact on WTO negotiations, however, the support by regional organizations would have to be more specific and technical in nature, and delivered in a timely manner.

Spillovers and trade-offs between regional and WTO trade agendas

Besides the direct support on WTO issues, both COMESA and SADC have engaged in numerous trade and regional integration activities that have indirectly benefited WTO preparation and compliance.

Hence some of the COMESA activities have aimed at ensuring coherence between the regional integration process and the WTO obligations of its member states (e.g. TBT and SPS). To foster policy research COMESA has been implementing a Regional Integration Research Network Project (RIRN) which has commissioned various studies on topics such as Article XXIV, dispute settlement, on tariff schedules (GATT/WTO bindings) or the implementation of the Decision on TRIPS Agreement and Public Health.

SADC has experienced similar synergies between its preparation for regional integration and WTO issues. An example is the report and round table meeting on amendments to the Dispute Settlement Mechanism of the SADC Trade Protocol, followed up by a workshop on the WTO Dispute Settlement Mechanism.

SADC has also undertaken work to assess the compliance of its member states with WTO rules, such as the notification requirements under the WTO SPS and TBT agreements. Out of this work, draft annexes on SPS and TBT to the Trade Protocol have been developed, aimed at harmonizing regional SPS and TBT measures and regulations.

In addition, the intensive preparation for EPA negotiations, by COMESA in the context of the ESA configuration and by SADC, has also contributed to generating positive synergies with the WTO agenda.

Clearly, numerous synergies exist in the trade liberalization agenda and institutional development at the regional, EPA and WTO levels. Yet the heavy agenda in each negotiation forum, combined with the limited capacity at both the regional and national levels, have negatively affected the preparation for these negotiations. The overall issues are the same in the various trade negotiations fora, for example effective market access, trade preferences, and linkages between trade and development. However, in terms of negotiation positions, each requires specific preparation. These have increased the burden on the limited number of officials in trade and other relevant ministries. Similarly, Geneva missions to the WTO (and to some extent the Brussels missions to the EU) are often under-staffed and ill-equipped to follow the wide array of trade negotiation sessions. The degree of political commitment and the level of development of the countries do matter a great deal, as suggested by the Mauritius and Zambia experiences, the latter suffering more acutely from the lack of capacity. The same constraints are reflected at the regional level.(6)

Not surprisingly, countries with less capacity, as in the case of Zambia, have fewer opportunities to benefit from the synergies created by the multiple trade agenda, as their attention is often drawn to the most urgent matter of the time. The competing trade agenda is therefore often determined by major negotiating events. In addition, donor support can also divert attention, as different steering groups are created to lead trade support programmes whose foci vary (e.g. JITAP and IF in Zambia).

For Mauritius, this is less the case, as their negotiating structure and capacities, although still insufficient and seriously strained, are more appropriate to cope with the trade agenda. The well-established tradition of significantly involving the private sector in the trade and economic policy formulation has been an important factor in Mauritius’ achievement.

Initial steps towards regional co-ordination of positions 

The predominance of national interests

Although both COMESA and the SADC aim to become customs unions, they have not yet established a common external tariff or developed a common external trade policy. The member countries have not had to delegate (part of) their trade authority to regional secretariats and are under no pressure to harmonize their positions at the regional level (unlike the European Union for instance).

In addition, both COMESA and that SADC have a diversified (and overlapping) membership. As indicated above, COMESA is composed of three different sub-regional groupings with some small islands, coastal countries and landlocked countries, LDCs and more advanced countries with a more diversified economy. Similarly, the SADC is also a highly heterogeneous region. Besides the overlapping membership with COMESA (seven countries being simultaneously members of the two regional organizations), it includes a more deeply integrated sub-region, the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU), with its dominating member, South Africa, together with some of the poorest and smallest countries, such as Lesotho.

With such diverse economic, social, political and geographical characteristics, and in the absence of a strong impetus towards co-ordination, it is not surprising that national interests largely dominate the position of COMESA as well as SADC countries in the WTO arena.

The (informal) co-ordination role of the regions

In the absence of a formal mandate to harmonize the positions of WTO members, regional groupings are left with the limited option of facilitating and promoting the co-ordination of the positions of their members.(7) In these conditions, the scope for co-ordinated action at the regional level on WTO issues depends on the goodwill of the member countries, and the capacity for initiative of the regional secretariat. The main role adopted by both COMESA and the SADC has so far been to facilitate informal co-operation and stimulate co-ordination among members. Regional meetings of country trade officials and Geneva ambassadors, as well as Ministerial Conferences, have generally constituted the most appropriate (if not the only) platform for member states to exchange views and possibly co-ordinate positions at the regional level.

As discussed above, these meetings have helped COMESA members in their technical preparation, but have helped more in facilitating formal and informal consultations among member states, as well as between Geneva (and Brussels) ambassadors and senior officials in capitals. While common declarations have tended to be more general in nature,(8) stressing the development dimension of the WTO negotiations, they have contributed somewhat to the elaboration of an African position, which has then also influenced larger WTO groupings, such as the ACP Group, the Group of LDCs and the G90.

It is interesting to note that some meetings are jointly organized by COMESA and SADC, or that representatives of the other region are invited to attend. In addition, AU Commission and ACP Secretariat representatives are also often invited to participate in COMESA and SADC regional meetings. This strategy may have helped to establish better linkages between the African Group and ACP positions and the positions of COMESA and SADC members. Besides, COMESA and SADC common declarations on WTO issues have normally been presented to the AU and informed the African, ACP and LDCs Groups’ positions.

From a national perspective, the common view is that regional support is more appropriate on technical issues and capacity-building initiatives than for the co-ordination of positions, which are better dealt with directly in WTO coalition groupings. Several diplomats and senior trade officials did stress that co-ordination at the regional level is better suited for delivering political messages on WTO matters. However, technical issues, where interests among member countries are more likely to differ, are better addressed directly at WTO coalition level (e.g. G10 and G33 for agriculture and special products).

IV. Main lessons 

This study has sought to identify the influence of the RECs in the preparation and participation of their member (developing) countries in the WTO. In particular, looking at the experience of an LDC, Zambia, and a small island economy, Mauritius, this study attempted to identify the role of the two RECs, COMESA and SADC, in supporting and facilitating their participation in the WTO.

The main lesson is that the regional dimension in east and southern Africa (COMESA/SADC) has had little direct impact so far on the preparation and conduct of the WTO negotiations. Both regions have been conducting numerous useful activities to support and co-ordinate the participation of their member states: studies, reports, meetings, training and so forth. However, at least in the case of Mauritius and Zambia, the type of support provided often remains too general, with not enough specific technical relevance for member countries’ specific interests significantly to inform their domestic positions on WTO matters. Besides, both COMESA and the SADC have too diverse a membership to allow for a meaningful co-ordination of their member states’ positions on specific WTO issues. Common strategic interests take form within WTO coalition groupings rather than heterogeneous regional groupings. Moreover, these RECs have too small a membership (in number and economic size) to form a strong alliance within the WTO coalitions’ framework, where groupings are already numerous. Since for the WTO size does matter, Mauritius and Zambia give priority to larger coalitions for common WTO matters (e.g. the Africa Group, ACP and LDCs Groups, and the G90). For specific-interest WTO matters, they focus on issue-dedicated groupings (e.g. the Friends of Multifunctionality, G10, G33, SIDS/SVE in the case of Mauritius). In addition, countries often rely on the Geneva channels for co-ordination and for transferring their input to WTO positions. Since neither COMESA nor the SADC have representatives in Geneva, these regional groupings are somewhat further marginalized. Nonetheless, the situation might evolve over time, as both COMESA and SADC further their integration to become effective customs unions. As COMESA and SADC remain free trade areas in the making, member states are not yet under pressure to co-ordinate their position.

Another important lesson is that regional groupings can play a much needed role in the WTO preparations through indirect means. The SADC and in particular COMESA have been instrumental in putting trade high on the regional agenda and promoting the visibility of trade matters. While the regional integration process has been the driving force, the opening of EPA negotiations with the EU and the WTO Doha Round have provided a major push. By raising awareness, by training, by providing a platform for the exchange of views and information, and by stimulating trade capacity building initiatives, COMESA and the SADC have contributed to a better preparation of their member countries on trade issues, which have had positive spillovers on their participation to the WTO. The size of these regional groupings provides good opportunities for developing useful common training and other capacity building activities to the benefit of the members.

Finally, this case study has shown that institutions with sufficient capacity have been able to benefit more from the synergy opportunities created by the multi-level trade policy interactions. Hence, COMESA, with its narrower focus on trade and economic issues, appears better equipped to support the preparation for various trade negotiations than SADC. Similarly, Mauritius officials seem more positive about the complementarity of preparations for the regional, EPA and WTO negotiations than their Zambian colleagues, who have more stretched capacities and less time to cope with this multiple agenda. Institutional capacities are therefore a key determinant in the level of synergies and trade-offs that are created by a multi-level negotiation process, in particular between the regional and multilateral level.

Annex I ABC of WTO global coalition groupings(9) 

In practice, the membership of coalition groupings evolves over time and groups can have more or fewer members than their name suggests. The current number of members is given in parentheses.

Cairns group (17): Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Paraguay, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand and Uruguay.

Founded in Cairns, Australia, in 1986, the Cairns Group consists of the world’s largest agricultural exporters. At the 2003 Cancún Ministerial many of its key players preferred to partner along other lines, and the G20 took its place as the most influential grouping of countries in the agriculture talks.

Friends of Multifunctionality (6): EU, Switzerland, Norway, Japan, Korea and Mauritius.

This group seeks to pursue agricultural policies that encourage environmental protection, rural development and food security.

G10 (10): Bulgaria, South Korea, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mauritius, Switzerland, Taiwan and Japan.

These are agricultural importers that maintain heavy protectionist rules for their own products and are keen to protect their domestic agricultural sector.

G20 (19): Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Tanzania, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

A group striving for agricultural reform created at the initiative of Brazil shortly before the 2003 Cancún Ministerial and consisting solely of DCs. The varying references to the group as G20, G20+ or even G22 has been due to the fact that a few countries have joined and others — such as Peru and Colombia — have left since September 2003.

G33 (30): Barbados, Botswana, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya, South Korea, Mauritius, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Uganda, Venezuela, Zambia and Zimbabwe. This group is also referred to as the Alliance for Special Products and a Special Safeguard Mechanism.

The G33 consists of developing-country importers of agricultural products, many of them also single-crop producers and exporters. The group advocates that DCs be granted flexibility to self-designate a number of ‘special products’ (SPs) on which they would not have to make any tariff reduction or tariff rate quota (TRQ) commitments. They also seek a new safeguard mechanism for DCs to enable them to counter market volatility and sudden import surges.

G90: The G90 is an umbrella group for three partly overlapping groupings:

  •  The ACP Group, consisting of DCs from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean that have signed the Cotonou Partnership Agreement with the EU;
  • The Africa Group, consisting of the members of the African Union, which contains all African countries except Morocco; and
  • The Group of Least-Developed Countries (LDCs), which contains all the LDCs that are WTO members.

Like the G20, this group was also born in Cancún, among others, to oppose attempts by the US and EU to include the so-called Singapore issues — investment, competition policy, transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation — in the negotiations.

Group on Cotton (4): Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali.

Seeking a complete phase-out of developed countries’ cotton subsidies.

Group of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) (9): Barbados, Cuba, Dominica, Jamaica, Mauritius, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Group of Small and Vulnerable Economies (SVE) (25): SIDS group plus Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Comoros, Fiji, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Maldives, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Surinam and Vanuatu.

Both these groups aim to put particular concerns and constraints faced by small island and vulnerable economies on the agenda.

Like-Minded Group (LMG) (13): Cuba, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe (Jamaica and Mauritius are observers).

The LMG pushes for the so-called implementation issues to be on the agenda, as well as special and differential treatment, and opposes the Singapore issues.

P5, or Five Interested Parties: United States, European Union, Brazil and India (on behalf of the G20) and Australia (on behalf of the Cairns Group).

These are the main parties involved in WTO agricultural negotiations.


3D → Trade — Human Rights — Equitable Economy (2004), ‘Jargon Explained: Glossary of Terms Commonly Used in the WTO’, July 2004, available at Glossary July 2004 rev.pdf.
BIDPA (2004), ‘Identification of Support for the Integration of SADC Countries into the World Trade System’, fact-finding mission report, Gaborone: Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA)
Blackhurst, Richard, Bill Lyakurwa and Ademola Oyejide (1999), ‘Improving African Participation in the WTO’, paper commissioned by the World Bank for a Conference at the WTO on 20-21 Sept. 1999, revised November, available at
Bonaglia, Federico and Kiichiro Fukasaku (2002), ‘Trading Competitively: A Study of Trade Capacity Building in Sub-Saharan Africa’, OECD Development Centre, June 2002, available at
Narlikar, Amrita and Diana Tussie (2004), ‘The G20 at the Cancún Ministerial: Developing Countries and their Evolving Coalitions in the WTO’, World Economy, 27 (7), pp. 947-66


1.- See also Blackhurst et al. (1999). 

2.- See Narlikar and Tussie (2004).

3.- See, e.g., Bonaglia and Fukasaku (2002). 

4.- In addition, Mauritius is a member of the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC). 

5.- These are Djibouti, Egypt, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe. 

6.- For a review of the SADC experience, see for instance BIDPA (2004). 

7.- See Art. 17.8(i) of the COMESA Treaty and Art. 29 of the SADC Protocol on Trade. 

8.- See, e.g., the Nairobi Declaration on Preparations for EPA negotiations and the Fifth WTO Ministerial Conference, 28 May 2003, COMESA. 

9.- Source: 3D (2004), and Narlikar and Tussie (2004). 

Source: WTO