Building capacity on trade and trade-related policy issues

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Samuel Ato Yeboah
Samuel Ato Yeboah

National Trade Advisor of the Commonwealth Hub & Spokes II Programme in Lesotho, Mr Samuel Ato Yeboah, has a very important role to play in the country’s trade and development agenda. Mr Yeboah supports Lesotho with technical advice on trade and trade-related issues, and speaks with Lesotho Times (LT) reporter Bereng Mpaki about the full mandate of his office.

LT: Could you please explain to us what your office does in Lesotho.

Yeboah: Let me first take a few minutes to shed some lights on what the Hubs and Spokes Program is all about.  It is a Trade Capacity Building Programme which is being implemented in Anglophone countries (English-speaking nations) by the Commonwealth Secretariat, and in Francophone nations (French-speaking) by L’Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie.

The programme is being funded by the European Union (EU), with the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group Secretariat as the global partner. In terms of management and implementation, the programme management team at the Commonwealth Secretariat works with a programme steering committee comprising of officials from the ACP and EU secretariats in Brussels.

So under the Programme, you have trade experts working in regional integration organizations such as SADC in Southern Africa, CARIFORUM in the Caribbeans, etc. which in this case are known as the  HUB,  as well as experts who are deployed in trade and trade related ministries in individual ACP countries my case for Lesotho who are also known as SPOKES.

My key responsibility here is to provide trade policy advisory support to officials working in the ministry of Trade and Industry, particularly the department of trade to carry out relevant analytical work to identify country positions and participate more effectively in international trade negotiations, develop and implement relevant trade policies, programs and projects. The goal is to supports Lesotho’s efforts in integrating into the global trading system.

Actually, the first phase of the Hub & Spokes Programme operated from 2004 to 2012, so we are currently in the second phase which runs from 2012 to December 2016.

LT: How do you carry-out your work in Lesotho?

Yeboah: There are five areas in which the programme operates. The first one is to provide capacity building on trade policy issues to key public, private and civil society stakeholders.

Another area the programme is involved in is assisting countries to develop effective trade policies as well as successfully negotiate and implement trade agreements. For example, as I said earlier, one of the things I do at the Ministry of Trade and Industry is to assist officials undertake technical analysis to be able to identify Lesotho’s position in the various negotiations that are going on at the SADC, SACU, and the Tri-parte FTA negotiations.

The third area we operate is to assist with the establishment and strengthening of trade-related networks and associations. For example, in June 2015 we collaborated with the International Trade Center (ITC) in Geneva, Switzerland and held a Market Analysis Training for Trade Promotion Organizations such as the LNDC, BEDCO, and Private sector associations such as PSFL, LCCI, as well as private sector operators. The objective was to enhance the market intelligence skills of officials of such organizations to be able to provide market access information to exporters, and business operators.

Another area in which this programme operates is to enhance effective identification and use of Aid for trade initiatives. Within the World Trade Organization (WTO), one area which has been highlighted is for developed countries to be able to provide technical and financial assistance to developing and least-developed countries to build their capacity to take advantage of the global market opportunities that have been created since 1994 at both international and regional levels

However, in-spite of the existing market opportunities, developing countries are not able to take maximum advantage of these market access opportunities. This is because they are still constrained by a lot of factors in production such as standards, cumbersome customs and outdated procedures, such that exporters find it difficult to trade their products beyond the borders. So we build a network with development partners or donor-agencies in order to tap into the resources they are willing to give in this regard to deal with such constraints. For example we are currently working to develop a national trade policy for Lesotho, and through a proposal that we sent to USAID Southern Africa Trade Hub we were able to secure funding to hold a national stakeholders workshop in September 2015 to define the way forward for the formulation of a National Trade Policy for Lesotho.

The last one is promoting intra-ACP collaborations amongst member-states.

LT: What are some of the activities the project has done to date in Lesotho?

Yeboah: Again let me first explain how the program implementation works. At the beginning of every financial year, we conduct a needs assessment with the Ministry of Trade and Industry to identify specific areas where the ministry might require some technical assistance. On the basis of that assessment, we agree on a number of activities to be implemented within the year, and then we develop a budget for them. The budget is then submitted to the Programme Management Team at the Commonwealth Secretariat, which in turn meet with the Program Steering Committee in Brussels for consideration and approval. Once approval is given we undertake preparations for implementation.

You will note that I have already mentioned some of the things that we have done so far.

Other things we have received funding for is that in December 2015, we provided training to 25 public and private sector laboratory technicians to equip them to prepare for ISO 17025 accreditation. Before a test result can be acknowledged from any laboratory, that laboratory must have been accredited. That is very critical because if I want to manufacture and sell water for example, it must be proven to the people who consume the water that it is clean and safe to drink.

This means the water must be tested, and it is the laboratories that do that. Now how does the world agree that the laboratory that has tested the water has the technical competence, knowledge, as well as appropriate equipment to carry-out the testing? The process through which this is done is called accreditation. Unfortunately, there is currently a challenge in the country in terms of Accredited Laboratories to do such testing.

As a result, exporters in Lesotho find it very difficult to do so. Their costs of production increase because they have to carry their product to South Africa to be tested.

So in order to assist in the development of Quality Standards Infrastructure in the country, we decided to have that kind of training for laboratory technicians. The South African Development Community Accreditation Service (SADCAS) was hired as the institution with such specialized knowledge to conduct the training. At the end of the training, the trainees were issued with certificates.

The follow-up workshop for managers that took place recently in Mpilo Hotel on May 30th 2016 came up during the technicians’ meeting, where it was agreed that it would be appropriate to hold a Sensitization Workshop for Executive Managers to enable them appreciate the issues so they can fully support recommendations that the technicians would make towards improving laboratory management practices. In that regard, the manager’s workshop also became part of this year’s activities.

LT: What future activities have been lined up under the programme?

Yeboah: We will be working more on helping Lesotho with Quality Standards Infrastructure as we are very keen on facilitating Lesotho’s participation in international trade.

One of the things we want to be involved in this year is to contribute to finalize a Food Safety Policy for the country. The food safety system in the country needs to comply with international best practice, and we are going to be involved in the processes. At the moment, a lot of activities are needed for that to happen although I must emphasize that the Department of Standards and Quality Assurance in the Ministry of Trade and Industry has already done a lot of work to draft the policy. We have an approved activity of holding a Workshop to bring the stakeholders together to agree on who will handle what aspect of the food safety chain within the framework of best practice.

Lastly, we are also going to organise a media training workshop in Lesotho as part of the programme’s activities for this year. Journalists from different media houses will be trained to have some knowledge about international trade issues, including what is currently going in various trade negotiations at the World Trade Organization, South African Customs Union, Southern Africa Development Community, and the current Tripartite Free-Trade Area negotiations between the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and East African Community (EAC).

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