27 July 2023

A conflict zone’s tentative steps towards recovery through trade for peace


  • The Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF)’s support to Somalia has been limited and has exclusively focused on the country's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) by supporting capacity-building around skills to navigate the trade landscape.

Somalia is gradually recovering from several decades of ongoing conflict that destroyed its economy and infrastructure and dramatically increased poverty. As this Horn of Africa country increasingly gains in stability, re-engaging in international trade is among the goals the country views as opportune for diverting youth, in particular, from conflict by encouraging small business growth. Abdihalim Osman Ibrahim – Director of Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises and Cooperatives at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry – is enthused by the national and continent-wide reputation of Somalis as business-oriented. He also highlights the young generation’s potential to contribute to the country’s economic recovery:  

A lot of young Somalis create businesses, and they are succeeding. The products they make for sale on the market are helping to reduce unemployment in the capital, Mogadishu, where the youth are 70% of the population.

Somalia applied for WTO accession in 2015, and its Working Party was established a year later. WTO accession is set as a priority in the country’s 2021-25 National Trade Strategy. However, symptoms of conflict, such as the lack of a negotiator and negotiation team and failure to pay the WTO observer fee, have delayed the accession process for several years. The same concerns stalled efforts to undertake a pre-Diagnostic Trade Integration Study (DTIS) in 2015-16, intended to identify priorities to guide Somalia’s trade agenda through a partnership between the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) and the country’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry. 

Somalia is a member of the Groupe of Seven (g7)+ WTO Accessions Group, which facilitates fragile and conflict-affected states’ economic integration into the multilateral trading system through related reforms. These reforms include credible economic and trade policy frameworks and institutions, and the promotion of transparency and good governance. “We are having to develop or update a lot of policies and rules, for example, in customs. Some of these date back to the 1960s”, stated Abdishakur Ali Dahiris, Head of Trade Facilitation in the Ministry of Finance’s Customs Department.

Negotiating the trade knowledge landscape

The EIF is contributing to Somalia’s WTO accession by supporting capacity-building around skills to navigate the trade landscape. This is seen as an important step in enabling the development and update of relevant policies, as well as for strengthening the country's trade-related negotiation capacity. 37 senior officials – spanning several trade-related ministries and including two private sector representatives from the Chamber of Commerce – were selected for training through the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. The training is being conducted by the Eastern and Southern Africa Management Institute's Trade Policy Training Centre in Africa (ESAMI-trapca), in collaboration with the World Bank. 

Using financing from the Government of Sweden, ESAMI-trapca was established in 2006 as a highly specialized trade policy and trade law training institution for professionals in the least developed countries (LDCs) and low-income sub-Saharan African countries. TRAPCA is a centre within ESAMI, which is an intergovernmental institute certified by the International Organization for Standardization and recognized by the UN Economic Commission for Africa as a Centre of Excellence. It has provided targeted on-demand training for 19 countries dealing with negotiations, mainly in Africa, but also Bangladesh and the Caribbean and Pacific Islands, as part of its mandate as an institution developed for the LDCs. As Dr Caiphas Chekwetu, Head of ESAMI-trapca, says: “It touches every trade-related entity in Africa”.

Both Ibrahim and Dahiris are among the officials receiving the training. Three other officials are currently pursuing academic courses at an advanced level towards obtaining a master's degree in international trade policy and trade law.

The online training, which started in August 2022, covers 11 modules on topics such as fundamental trade policy, trade law and trade facilitation. This will enable training participants to better craft, implement and analyse the impact of trade provisions for their country. There are also courses on drafting and interpreting trade agreements, regional integration, tariff and non-tariff measure analysis, trade negotiations and economic diplomacy, domestic trade governance, trade remedies, and dispute settlement. 

The training will be essential in moving Somalia towards developing a clear and coherent trade agenda. Chekwetu explains: 

A big challenge is domesticating multilateral trade agreements and mainstreaming policies. Another is that trade is not generally considered as cross-cutting. If trade is not integrated in all policies, it will not succeed. Capacity is a part of the problem, and our goal is to increase the capacity of individuals in the Government and private sectors.

Although the training for Somali officials started strong, participation rates later dropped. This was mainly due to connectivity issues and the senior officials’ work demands. The EIF has since increased the budget to allow for on-site training at ESAMI-trapca in Arusha for the remaining modules, before the support from the EIF concludes in 2023. On-site training will also provide for more interactive and practical work sessions in a dedicated environment. Other LDCs in the accession process will also be able to benefit from the courses developed for Somalia. 

Behind the scenes

In working towards a first WTO Working Party meeting – the next of several stages towards WTO accession – Somalia is steadily updating existing and developing new trade and trade-related policies, strategies and tools. According to Ibrahim:  

The Ministry of Commerce and Industry is working to make trade more vibrant in the country. An example is the Somalia trade and information portal, which has already gone live but is still under development. It will facilitate the private sector’s access to information on laws and policies that relate to trade.

Through engagement with partners, the Ministry has also established a National Trade Facilitation Committee (NTFC) to address issues such as on standardization. The Committee is composed of different government agencies and the private sector and, according to Ibrahim, will help with the accession process and joining regional entities such as the East African Community. Both Ibrahim and Dahiris are members of the NTFC. 

Dahiris has been part of important changes already taking place around trade and customs, including on addressing tariff constraints for small businesses. 

Ibrahim, meanwhile, sees potential for a brighter future once Somalia successfully accedes to the WTO and takes the necessary steps towards pro-poor trade: 

We are hoping that in another five years, small businesses will increase their regional and international markets. It will go a long way to moving out of insecurity.


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As the second phase of the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) comes to an end in 2024, the objective is to produce a catalogue of impact stories showcasing the efforts of the EIF partnership in the least developed countries (LDCs) and recently graduated LDCs where it has been actively engaged. This impact story makes up one of the stories in the catalogue. Essential input and reviews were received from the country‑based EIF National Implementation Units (NIUs) and the wider EIF team. 

The primary objective of each impact story, as well as the entire catalogue, is to adopt a journalistic approach in recounting the EIF's engagement in the LDCs during both Phase One and Two. The aim is to offer valuable insights and to document outcomes and impacts, as well as some lessons learned from the work of the EIF partnership in the LDCs. These stories do not provide a comprehensive overview of every aspect of EIF partnership engagement such as precise timelines or the exact extent of involvement (i.e., financial contributions). Instead, they serve as one of several means of information about the work of the EIF partnership. Interested readers are encouraged to supplement these impact stories by consulting other sources, including EIF Annual Reports, Trade for Development News articles, EIF social media channels, and, where applicable, the NIUs in the LDCs as well as the EIF Executive Secretariat.

It is essential to acknowledge that the information provided is neither exhaustive (e.g., it is based on the latest available data at the time of writing in 2023) nor evaluative in nature. 

Lastly, while each impact story adheres to a similar structure, the diverse range of countries, contexts, and EIF engagements means that each story is unique.

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Any views and opinions expressed on Trade for Development News are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect those of EIF.