Interview with Hakim Ben Hamouda, Director of the Training Institute at the World Trade Organization

He arrived in World Trade Organization (WTO) less than a year ago and instilled a new dynamism in the Training Institute. Recently, he and his colleagues organized an « open-door event » to demonstrate more about their activities that provide an opportunity to learn. We had the opportunity of meeting with Mr Ben Hamouda, a well-know economist, professor and researcher who, despite his young age. He has taught micro and macro economics and development issues at university and has written several books dealing with questions related to development in Africa. He now heads the Training Institute of the WTO.
Q: You are the Director of Training at WTO. What exactly do you do? We have a wide variety of training programmes. For instance, in 2008 we carried out 485 training activities for developing countries. In fact, we can divide our actions and interventions into four categories.
The first one consists of all the training activities we carry out in Geneva. For example, we organize training sessions for international experts from developing countries who come here for shorter or longer period of time following courses on different aspects of international commerce.
The second category consists of regional training courses where we collaborate with training institutions and universities around the world. We have, for instance, two long courses in Africa lasting for three months aimed at experts from different administrations. One is for the French-speaking Africa and other one for Anglophone countries. Similar courses take place in Asia and Latin America. We are now trying to launch one for the Arab world and one for the Eastern European countries.
The third type of intervention is what we call e-learning. We provide a lot of distance training on different aspects of multilateral commerce.
The fourth type of assistance is internship programmes for the smaller embassies. Some countries provide us with funding permitting us to train an intern who will assist them in questions related to the functioning of WTO or international commerce.
To sum up, we have a range of activities covering quite a lot of products whose main aim is to reinforce and strengthen the capacities of developing countries so that they can benefit from and have a better understanding of the international trade system.
Q: Do you teach purely technical aspects or more operational ones?
There are different types. There are, of course, technical aspects. Then there are the different aspects of negotiations in international commerce. All our interventions and programmes are planned. Each year each developing country belonging to WTO has the right to benefit from two interventions on the part of WTO. They determine the field of interest and we execute their request. The leastdeveloped countries have the right to three requests a year.
Q: Before coming to Geneva, you were based in Africa. What is different?
I was based in Addis Ababa. On the professional level it was an important change. I worked in an institution that dealt only with the African countries and now I work in an institution covering the whole world. My job today has a much wider scope.
Q: Developing countries often complain that it’s difficult for them to become involved in international commerce.
It is true that it is not easy. This is because many of the African countries do not have the infrastructures to do it. Our work consists of assisting them to achieve the necessary competences so that they can benefit from international commerce.
Q: According to Jean Ziegler, we are at a turning point in history. We will see a new generation emerging who claim ownership of their national resources?
This is true! In fact, it already started in the 1990s when Africa began to set up a series of political reforms — democratic reforms, economic reforms, better governance, the fight against corruption, etc. There has been a huge evolution in Africa and this also explains the strong economic growth that has taken place lately. Unfortunately, TV programmes concentrate on the negative aspects of Africa, such as famine, wars, etc., but Africa has made a certain progress.
I think there are lots of things happening in Africa right now. We have to support them and make it possible for Africa to play its role and find its place in the global society.
Q: One of the problems for developing countries is the lack of financial institutions. Do you think this will change soon?
I think it will take time. Africa needs better conditions for financing of its development, and this was the main topic at the Summit in Qatar.