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WTO sidelines Africa

By Percy Makombe

THE mistrust that developing countries have over the operations of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) looks set to continue following the appointment of two African coun

tries to chair insignificant committees.

In contrast, developed countries were appointed to chair three committees that will discuss substantive issues.

The Fifth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation is taking place in Cancun, Mexico until September 14.

Kenya was appointed to chair the committee on development while Ghana will chair a committee to deal with miscellaneous issues.

Singapore will take the agriculture chair. The issues of investment, transparency in government procurement, trade facilitation, and competition committee will be chaired by Canada while Hong Kong takes the Non-Agricultural Market Access (Namas) chair.

Commenting on these latest developments, Yash Tandon director of the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information Negotiations Institute (Seatini) said: “These appointments must be treated with suspicion.

“They are meant to give the impression that the Third World is participating in trade discussions as an equal partner, but that is not the case.”

The appointments give Ghana and Kenya general issues, while the substantive issues will continue to be driven by Europe.

The area of agriculture which has been given to Singapore is an important sector for Africa as it is the backbone of African economies.

However there are inequities in the agreement on agriculture that allow developed countries to maintain their subsidies, while denying developing countries the right to counterbalance with tariffs.

The Singapore issues committee to be chaired by Canada is a very crucial area as it comes at a time when the developed countries are pushing hard for the WTO to expand to include new areas.

In Doha a decision was made that negotiations would begin on the four Singapore issues after the Fifth Ministerial Meeting, but only on the basis of an explicit consensus on modalities.

The appointment of Canada as chair can be interpreted as meaning that the developed countries want quick progress in pushing their agenda.

Developing countries have previously complained that the Doha mandated negotiations have been marked by a total absence of progress in the areas of interest to them.

Failure to meet deadlines in the areas of implementation, Trips and public health, special and differential treatment and agriculture are often sighted as examples of that lack of commitment.

The European Union accuses the poor nations of asking for too much.

Franz Fischler, the Agriculture Commissioner for the EU says 20 developing countries including Mexico are “asking for the moon”.

He said: “If they want to continue in their space orbit, they will not get the moon and the stars, but rather empty hands.”

Fischler’s statement comes at a time when the developing countries are complaining that issues of concern to them have not received adequate attention.

A week before the Cancun meeting, South Africa’s president Thabo Mbeki said there was need for developing countries to link up with anti-globalisation protesters to promote the poor nations’ cause.

“They may act in ways that you and I would not like, breaking windows in the streets and this and that but the message relates to us,” Mbeki said.

Commenting on the ministerial meeting, Peter Hardstaff, head of policy at the World Development Movement said: “There are definable criteria by which success or failure in Cancun can be measured… No expansion of the WTO, review and repair of the existing flawed agreements such as services and agriculture, and deep reform of the negotiating process of the WTO itself; these are the tests of a successful ministerial meeting.”

Percy Makombe works for the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information Negotiations Institute (Seatini).

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