Better off out? The costs and benefits of sub-Saharan Africa's membership of the world trade organization

Nnamdi O. Madichie*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Originally conceived as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1948, the World Trade Organization (WTO) needs no introduction. It is a full-fledged custodian of the multilateral trading system since January 1, 1995, which succeeded GATT with a view to extending the mandate to an organization that was in need of reform. With the accession of China and nine other members from 1999-2001, the WTO now covers 97% of the world's population, having added another 1.5 billion people to its fold. This increase in membership in recent years has been entirely made up of developing countries and countries in transition-defined by the WTO to include the former Soviet Union, eastern and central Europe, the Baltic States, and the Balkans.

This paper reviews three central pillars of the WTO's structure and rules-all important areas relevant to the question of how developing countries can derive greater benefits from participation in the multilateral trading system. First, the nature of WTO rules; second, the reach of these rules; and third, the conditions of market access, that collectively determine the quality and utility of the WTOfor its members. Not surprisingly, each of these three elements features prominently in the Doha Development Agenda. I choose to use this three-pronged approach to outline the arguments for and against sub-Saharan Africa's (SSA) membership of the WTOby assessing the real or perceived costs and benefits of membership.

Overall, the paper suggests that SSA states are perhaps better off out- at least for the simple reason of the unfair and/or "rigged" rules that govern such trade under the WTO framework. Considering the slow pace of reform at the WTO and the continued stalling of WTO summits from Seattle, through Cancun to the ever-evolving Doha Rounds of negotiations, a further suggestion leads to a rejection of the idea that a departure from the WTO would have horrific consequences, tantamount to economic suicide for SSA.

On a cautionary note, however, the author recognizes that in practice, it is difficult to tell whether SSA would be better or worse leaving the WTO, but the contention suggests that other alternatives - such as a reinvigorated south-south co-operation and SSA regional trading arrangements - would most certainly benefit SSA.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-30
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of African Business
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Better off out
  • GATT
  • Multilateral trading system
  • Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA)
  • WTO membership


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