African nations seeking united front on trade talks

African countries are drawing up a unified position this week to try to pry open the markets of developed countries ahead of a World Trade Organisation ministerial conference in Geneva on November 30.
Delegates to an African trade minister’s conference that opened in Cairo said continuing delays on a new global trade deal were crippling African development, especially in the wake of the global economic crisis.
“Africa needs an early, balanced and fast conclusion of this round. So it will be an appeal to the major players to come to the table, because this time around, it’s not Africa who is delaying the process,” said SB Naresh Servansing, a delegate from Mauritius.
African nations are seeking broader access to developed markets for their agriculture products, especially cotton, which is grown widely across the continent.
The African nations also complain that subsidies to producers in rich countries, particularly to US cotton growers, are distorting world trade to the detriment of producers in poorer countries.
Servansing, chief negotiator for the 79-member group of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries at the WTO, said talks should be all-inclusive in a way that allows African and other vulnerable countries to put their concerns on the table.
“There is a proliferation of small group meetings in Geneva at the moment in terms of bilaterals and peripherals which is taking place outside the existing, approved and endorsed structures of negotiation which were set up,” he told Reuters.
Despite an intensive work program agreed last month, WTO talks have not achieved enough to reach a core deal in implementing the Doha negotiations, now in their eighth year.
“It’s important because trade is one of the engines of growth,” Egyptian Ambassador Hisham Badr, African Coordinator for WTO matters in Geneva, said on the sidelines of the meeting.
The failure to enact the Doha trade pact and the global financial crisis had caused private investment to fall by 40 % in 2008 and African losses from exports of $251 billion (R1927 billion) in 2009, Badr said in a statement to the meeting.
“If we can’t put our products on the market, we cannot produce. Then our farmers and producers and everyone cannot have the economic growth that is needed,” Badr said.
The three-day WTO conference that begins on November 30 will not include negotiations, but will give African nations a chance for their views to be heard, delegates said.
The WTO’s Director-General Pasqua Lamy said on October 23 that a 2010 target for a commerce deal was out of reach unless countries accelerate their negotiations.