African countries are expected to lobby for more access to the duty free global market for agricultural products at the upcoming World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference in Nairobi.
Top on the agenda during the December 15-18 meeting is the issue of reduction of agricultural subsidies and implementation of domestic support measures to reduce competition from exports from developing countries.
According to Peter Kiguta, EAC Director General of Customs & Trade, African countries are already negotiating on how to present these key issues to the other partners for negotiations.
“This is the right time is Africa lobbying for support from developing countries to comprehensively address their issues,” said Mr Kiguta.
African countries are seeking to address the issue of agricultural subsidies, “anti-dumping” barriers by rich countries like the US, Japan and Korea that restrict exports of agricultural products, steel and other goods from developing countries; the impact of lower industrial tariffs on domestic industries in many African countries; and the failure of the rich countries to provide adequate technical assistance to enable developing countries to comply with trade regulations and compete effectively.
“Under the WTO, African countries have been forced to open their markets to cheap imports that undermine domestic agriculture and industry while rich countries have failed to lower their own trade barriers, which cost developing countries some $100 billion in lost opportunities,” said Mr Kiguta.
He added that instead of addressing these concerns, the rich countries and the WTO secretariat are pressing for a new round of negotiations.
Despite a commitment under WTO to reduce certain agricultural subsidies by 20 per cent, overall subsidy levels in the industrialised countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have continued to rise.
Payments to farmers now reach some $1 billion a day, equivalent to the total daily income of the world’s poorest 1 billion people.
A World Bank report indicates that the elimination of such farm subsidies along with reductions in high agricultural tariffs and the granting of duty- and quota-free access to OECD markets for exports from the LDCs could bring developing countries additional earnings of $15,000 billion over 10 years.
“African ministers want to obtain binding commitments from especially the high-subsidy countries, such as the US, Japan, China and the Republic of Korea, to reduce the agricultural subsidies that enable the developed countries to export cheap food to developing countries, to the detriment of farmers in Africa,” said Joshua Mugodo, director of economic affairs at the Kenyans Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
He said that agricultural subsidies to farmers in the US, Europe, and Japan $1 billion a day are six times the amount these countries provide in development assistance. Together with other measures, such as tariffs and quotas, these subsidies make it difficult for developing countries to compete in rich country markets.
Even more damaging, they allow agricultural exports from the rich countries to drive small farmers out of business in developing countries.
The upcoming talks will also review past trade agreements for inequities that African and other developing countries argue have unfairly denied them the benefits of increased global commerce.
Keith Rockwell, chief spokesman at the WTO, said African countries are negotiating on an earlier proposal by Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda and Zimbabwe that a package of reforms, known as the “development box,” be implemented by WTO members.
The reforms were intended to allow poor countries to raise import tariffs on staple foods, in order to meet their food security needs and support vulnerable rural populations.
“They also wanted to be able to directly subsidise crops that provide the main source of livelihood for poor farmers, a practice the agreement currently prohibits,” said Mr Rockwell.
“The current agreement protects the interests of the developed countries at the expense of developing countries. Despite a commitment by WTO partners to reduce import duties, some developing country products exported to industrial nations, such as sugar, metals, cereals and textiles, continue to face tariff barriers, in some cases of more than 100 per cent.”
He noted that the other controversial issues to be discussed at the ministerial conference include proposals on investment, competition policy, transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation, all of which could further open domestic markets to competition from foreign companies.
Opponents claim liberalisation in these areas will reduce governments’ ability to protect their countries’ national interests
Agriculture is only one example of the many trade sectors in which Africa and other developing countries have not benefited as promised from previous agreements.
Source:The East African