Liberia has finally acceded to the World Trade Organization, with President Sirleaf describing the event as another turning point in Liberia’s history as the country continues the journey of economic transformation for inclusive growth.
The President said though long and tough, the road to accession has come with milestones of economic growth. According to a dispatch from Nairobi, Kenya, President Sirleaf spoke on Wednesday, December 16, 2015 at the World Trade Organization’s 10TH Ministerial Conference held in Nairobi, following Liberia’s accession to the organization. The accession makes Liberia the 35th Least Developed Country to be admitted into the WTO and the organization’s 163rd Member State.
Speaking further, she indicated that with over twelve unbroken years of peace and stability, Liberia has created the fiscal space by removing an external debt burden of $4.9 billion through the HIPC process; Domestic revenue increased by over 600%, and substantial support to invest in trade facilitation and infrastructure were being mobilized.
President Sirleaf also reflected on Liberia’s progress in rebuilding after decades of conflict, recounting gains in energy electricity, road construction, education, health and the pursuit of investment opportunities for the country to achieve the national objectives.
She committed her administration’s continued preparedness to solidify investments in the country’s ports of entry, as well as aggressively pursue new investment opportunities to modernize ports’ infrastructures to advance trade and investment.
President Sirleaf also pointed out that targeted investments have been made to provide social services to the Liberian people, indicating that school enrolment increased to over 1.5 million in 2015, with girls’ enrolment constituting nearly 50%. “By 2017, we expect school enrollment to increase to 2.6 million with over 10,000 teachers trained to support this ambition,” she noted.
Touching on the Ebola crisis, she intimated that Liberia made huge progress in developing its health sector, but said progress was reversed by the Ebola crisis.
“Access to health services increased from 41% in 2007 to 71% in 2013 as a result of increase in the number of health facilities from 354 in 2006 to 712 by 2012. My government remains committed to rebuilding a more resilient health system now that Ebola has been defeated,” the President Sirleaf.
On trade and commerce, she told the WTO Conference that special emphasis was being placed on small and medium-size enterprises to drive the agenda of inclusion and that the government has enacted the Small Business Empowerment Act, which requires 25% public procurement, is to be from Liberian-owned businesses”.
She said despite progress over the last ten years, much was still to be done; acknowledging that the Ebola crisis and dramatic drop in global prices of two of Liberia’s major export commodities – rubber and iron ore, caused a severe drop in GDP.
She praised the international community, including Kenya, for helping Liberia to overcome the virus. Meanwhile, President Sirleaf has informed the WTO Conference that the Liberian economy was being diversified with an accent on agriculture cocoa, rice, fisheries and agro-processing and tourism to better withstand the vagaries of the global marketplace. Liberia, she asserted, was endowed with over 40% of West Africa’s tropical rain forest – the largest in the region and home to a most spectacular biodiversity, including the pigmy hippo. “Liberia is ideal for eco-tourism,” the Liberian leader noted.
“Liberia is blessed with over 580 kilometers of beautiful white sand beaches along the Atlantic, dare devil surfers have come to challenge some of the biggest waves in the world; beautiful lakes, lagoons, rivers and streams abound offering attractive opportunities for coastal and marine tourism. We, therefore, welcome investors in these sectors while offering assurances of the most favorable incentives for investment,” she stressed.
President Sirleaf then expressed appreciation for the collaborative efforts of Liberia’s partners, particularly the Governments of Sweden, United States of America, European Union, China, and Japan, whose support have made this accession a resounding success.
She also thanked the Swedish National Board of Trade, the International Trade Centre, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the World Bank Group, Economic Community of West African States, the Advisory Centre on WTO Law, the International Senior Lawyers Program, the law firm, King & Spalding, and WTO’s Enhanced Integrated Framework for supporting Liberia’s accession.
She also extended special thanks to WTO Director-General Azevedo, Mr. Cheidu Osakwe and the team in the Accession Division for their support, as well as Sweden’s Ambassador Joakim Reiter, for his leadership as Chair of the Liberia Working Party over the years.
She also recognized the efforts of Liberian technicians and public servants whose talents and commitment led to such achievement and again congratulated President Kenyatta and the people of Kenya for hosting the 10th Ministerial Conference of the WTO.
President Kenyatta congratulated Liberia for its accession to the WTO, indicating that it was now incumbent upon the country to seize the opportunities that come along with the accession.
World Trade Organization’s Director General, Ambassador Roberto Azevedo commended President Sirleaf for the extraordinary leadership role played in the epoch-making achievement, saying Liberia met WTO standards through painstaking effort.
He also praised Liberia’s Chief Negotiator and the team of technicians for their efforts. WTO Member States congratulated to Liberia one after the other at an elaborate ceremony at the Kenya International Convention Center.