African regional meeting focuses on service policy

Compared with Asia’s 8 percent and the America’s 6 percent, Africa’s contribution to global services exports in 2012 was 2.2 %, says the Service Policy Report (SPR) published by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The service sector plays an important role in economies as it increases productivity and provides well paying jobs. In addition, a strong service sector can contribute to economic development by providing, for example, health care and education services. Increasing Africa’s contribution to global services exports would serve as both a solid foundation for economic development as well as a desired outcome of said development.
At a meeting jointly held by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the African Union (AU) and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on Promoting Services Sector Development, the SPR was discussed by trade officials, service policy-makers, regulators, private sector actors, academics and members of research institutions.
The report states that while developed countries still dominate the services industries, developing nations’ share of the sector has been growing in recent years.
During the meeting, that was held from September 12th to 13th, the main issues that were covered include achieving sustainable development and job creation through the service sector, service trade liberalization across Africa and developing strategies for services sector development.
“For some developing countries with promising service sectors and limited experience with privatization, emphasis may be placed on creating an enabling environment for domestic services firms, most of which may be small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs),” the SPR report says.
It was stated that an efficient and productive services industry contributes significantly to productivity growth and is crucial for the overall competitiveness of an economy, including in manufacturing and agriculture.
The importance of access to basic services to achieving the Millennium Development Goals through the provision of services such as potable water and sanitation services, energy, health, education and environmental services was also underlined.
Experts described the economic, regulatory and policy issues regarding African countries. The presentations highlighted some of the commonalities in the sector-specific issues faced by different countries. The sectors include financial and insurance services, ICT services and tourism.
Other discussions focused on the concrete process of translating countries’ trade and development policies relating to the services sector into concrete measures. It was stated that gaps often observed between what was planned and what has actually been done occurs when there is a mismatch between policies and a country’s situation as well as limited human, institutional and financial resources.
Other areas focused on during the meeting included how to enhance stakeholders involvement in service policy making and negotiations, how to tackle the challenge of policy implementation and the role of development partners and donors, including the promotion of coherence and cooperation.

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