Africa and the Multilateral Trading Regime: Re-examining the “Market Access” Mantra

  •  Ubong E. Effeh    


Much has been written about sub-Saharan Africa and its inability to achieve economic development – a state of affairs often articulated by legal scholars in terms of its inability to realize the core elements of economic and social rights such as healthcare, food, housing, and basic education. Commentators and policy-makers are almost unanimous in blaming factors such as “inadequate” foreign aid, the debt burden, “unfair” multilateral trade rules and protectionism in Western markets. Although some are beginning to challenge the aid/debt hypothesis, the last two suppositions remain an article of faith – the overwhelming opinion being that existing multilateral trade rules and protectionism in Western markets represent the impediment to the region’s ability to “trade its way out of poverty.” This paper aims to add to the dissenting voices by arguing that the problem of protectionism has become so overemphasized that its proponents have, quite paradoxically, become the obstacle to the region’s prospects of ever achieving the aim of economic development as proclaimed under the Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization and indeed, under the main international human rights instruments such as the Covenant on Economic and Cultural Rights – not least because this thesis invariably deflects critical attention from the real impediments to the region’s ability to trade.

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