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Africans must orgnize their own trade party
Experts say African countries should trade and invest more among themselves and not ntgotiate deals with economic giants like the US and the EU, who hae continued to dump subsidized produce.
African was supposed to be one of the main beneficiaries of a global trade deal, but many on the world’s poorest continent fell their voice are not being heard ahead of next week’s possibly make-or-break talks on an accord.
When the so-called Doha round of trade talks were launched in 2001, there were lofty ambitions of reaching a deal that would boost the global economy and lift millions out of poverty – many of those in Africa.
But with the world’s most industrialized nations embroiled in a spat over subsidies and market access ahead of the WTO’s ministerial meeting in Hong Kong from today. African countries feel their concerns have been sidelined.
" Mnay of the developing countries are concerned over this marginalization, in terms of the issue of interest to them as well as their involvement in the negotiations process," said Erastus Mwencha, secretary general of Africa’s biggest trade group, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.
Xavier Carim, South Africa’s cheif negotiator, said there was a perception that development agenda was being eroded.
"The most important thing for the continent is how the meeting deals with agriture, which represents the most distorted area in trade," Carim said.
"Competingat par would be good news for Africans and would definitely help the continent’s development agenda," he said.
African countries want rich nations to stop dumping subsidized farm goods on poor states and provide more access to their own markets. They say rich country’s farm subsiies hurt their exports of cotton and other goods. Agriculture accounts for more than a quarter of Africa’s exports.
But officials say those concerns have been largely ignored ahead of the Hong Kong meeting by trade heavyweights like the US, the EU, India, Australia, Brazil.
Oxfam warned this week plans pushed by the major powers in the Doha round would bring little benefit to developing countries and could drive some deeper into proverty.
In a report, it said the EU and the US had turned what was originally labelled a "development round" of trade talks into an effort to gain more for themselves.
Oxfa, says cub-Saharan Africa captures only 1 percent of the world export market, and that an increase of 1 percent of market share could raise annual exchange earnings by US$70 BILLION.
African countries have ask the EU to offer deeper cuts in agriculture tariffs, including those covering its most sensitive farm products. EU negotiations say they have already put their best offers on the table.
Some African officials are pragmatic about the row.
"We cannot stop producers’ subsidies in rich countries, it is their right, but we are not setting off on equal footing. This is a David-and-Golath fight," Benin Trade Minister Massyatou Latoundji said.
For some, success lies in targeted demands.
"African countries might actually be better off to concentrate on carving out arrangements that developed countries are less likely to oppose," Augustin Fosu, a director at the UN Economic Commission for Africa, said.
Fosu said that Africa should not negotiate under the G20 umbrella of developing countries but should push its own interest because rich nations were more worried about product from Brazil and India, than products from Africa.
He said Africa should focus on getting special deals for exports like cotton and sugar – which will be major talking points in Hong Kong.
Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali – West africa states whose economies depend on cotton – want rich nations to halt export subsidies by the end of this year and drop 80% of other trade-distorting cotton subsidies by a year later.
A WTO meeting in Cancun in 2003 collapsed when African leader left, saying their demands on cotton were not being met.
Oxfam says up to 18 million people are involved in the cotton sector across West Africa, compared to around 500,000 in the US, the world’s biggest exporter of cotton.
"Cotton producers receive billion of dallars in subsities, showing that tens of thousands of US and European producer," said Benoit Ouattara, trade minister of Burkina Faso.
"We need immediate, applicable measures to come out of Hong Kong which can make a different system nor WTO will remain credible," he said.
Sugar producers from Africa will join their counterparts in the Caribbean and Pacific to demand that sugar be cushioned from high import tariffs in rich nation.
Many Affrican sugan producers already face lorge losses from a 36 percent cut in EU guaranteed prices.
On the other side of the negotiation table, rich countries want Africa to open its markets to competition in industry and services. Africans says this could hurt nascent industries.
Some experts say Africans could improve growth prospects by increasing trade amongst themselves and boosting investment.
"The rest of the world is having a trade party and Africa is just not there," said Robert Bunyi, chief economist for Africa at the Standerde Bank of South Africa.
"We’ve got to find ways to go get to the party – trade talks are one area but the other is seeking to boost investment, seeking to produce at competitive rates."