National University of Lesotho launches activities under WTO Chairs Programme

At a high-level event on 13 July, the National University of Lesotho (NUL) launched its activities under the WTO Chairs programme (WCP). Deputy Director-General Xiangchen Zhang attended the event alongside representatives from the government, university authorities and business associations of Lesotho, the donor governments of France and Austria, and members of the WCP Network.

The NUL was one of 17 universities selected to join the Chairs network in late 2021. It is also one of five institutions from least developed countries (LDCs) to be selected in this latest phase, alongside institutions from Ethiopia, Nepal, Rwanda, and Tanzania. As a result of the new intake, the WCP network now has a total of 36 members, with 13 from African countries and seven from LDCs.

During his opening remarks, DDG Zhang highlighted the importance of the WCP for not only providing governments with access to research within their own country but also for enhancing collaboration with other academic institutions to ensure that regional and cross-regional perspectives are included in knowledge generation.

Referring to the successful conclusion of the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12), which delivered the historic Geneva Package, DDG Zhang added: “On the heels of these important developments, technical support needs to be at the centre for developing country governments, especially those of LDCs to fully understand and effectively implement the outcomes. They should have access to better data, customized information, and applied knowledge on these topics. The idea of the WTO Chairs Programme is that through the identification of the specific needs of national stakeholders, Chairs can develop applied research and advise trade policy makers.” His full remarks are available here.

Associate Professor Motlamelle Anthony Kapa from the NUL highlighted the institution’s recent research and outreach activities which have focused on regional integration and the multilateral trading system in landlocked LDCs. “This work will be supported by a dedicated team with diverse skills at NUL with experience in trade facilitation under the auspices of the WTO TFA, sustainable development, and e-commerce law,” he said.

H.E. Thabiso Molapo, Minister of Trade and Industry of Lesotho, congratulated the university for its membership in the WCP, and noted the impact the programme would have in both the public and private sectors. He also stated that he was looking forward to the research and knowledge that would be produced by the NUL, which would help enhance the country’s trade policies.

Ambassador Thabang Matjama, Lesotho’s Permanent Representative to the WTO, said: “Lesotho has already made significant contributions to the development of WTO law by heading some of the negotiation groups in the organization, such as the African Group in Geneva and working with other LDCs.”

Ms Hortense Nesseler from the Permanent Mission of France to the WTO reiterated the importance of academic research and expert advice in helping members understand the different topics within trade, and achieve more ambitious results.

Ms Cynthia Zimmermann from the Ministry for Labour and Economic Affairs of Austria said: “The Chairs Programme is a win-win for all stakeholders involved and is generating excellent long-term sustainability by capitalizing on academic specialization. It is also increasing capacity in the host countries over the course of the professional careers of the Chair teams at the selected universities.”

In his closing remarks, Prof. Olusola Isaac Fajana, Vice Chancellor of the NUL, thanked the WTO, donors and all stakeholders involved in this initiative. “At NUL, we envisage that this Chairs programme will help us become a centre of excellence in the production and dissemination of the laws and policies of international trade in the African region. We hope to influence industry and the education sectors in the Global South through productive collaboration, ” he said.