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Friday, 07 October 2011 20:45

Africa Ravaged by Continued Denial of Market Access

By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda

Geneva, Oct 7, 2011 (IPS) - The poorest countries in Africa are not merely the victims of natural calamities. They are also ravaged by the continued denial of market access as promised in the Doha trade negotiations, say African trade diplomats.

 

Almost six years ago at the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Hong Kong ministerial meeting, the least-developed countries (LDCs) in the global trading regime, drawn largely from Africa, were assured that their industrial products will be given duty-free and quota-free market access in rich countries.

 

Further, the four poorest cotton producers in West Africa - Benin, Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso - were promised that all trade-distorting cotton subsidies provided largely by the United States would be expeditiously slashed. The LDCs were also told they will be provided with a "wavier" on trade in services, implying that they would not have to undertake any fresh commitments.

 

All these promises are clearly spelt out in great detail in the Doha mandate, particularly the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration of 2005. The Doha trade negotiations began in 2001 with the objective to lower trade barriers around the world and thereby enable the increase in global trade.

 

The "daridra narayans" - a term coined by Mohandas 'Mahatma' Gandhi, the father of an independent India, to describe the conditions of the wretched of the earth - of the global trading regime were assured time and time again that their demands would be treated as part of the "early harvest" at every ministerial meeting.

 

Sadly, there are grave doubts now that these promises will be addressed at the WTO’s eighth ministerial meeting in December.

 

"African countries will be left high and dry at the ministerial meeting in December as their core LDC issues - duty-free and quota-free market access, cotton, services waiver - will not be addressed," says an African trade diplomat, preferring anonymity.

 

Bangladesh, the coordinator for the LDCs at the WTO, remains confident that things can be turned around at the ministerial meeting.

 

"We are still hoping that our priorities will be adequately reflected at the outcome from the eighth ministerial meeting," says Ambassador Abdul Hannan of Bangladesh.

 

Leading developing countries - South Africa, India, Brazil and China - among others have repeatedly underscored the need for addressing the duty-free and quota-free market access to enhance the "credibility" of the WTO.

 

"Any attempt to deliver on any issue will not be credible in the WTO if it doesn’t begin with the poorest members of the global trading system," says Ambassador Faizel Ismail, South Africa's trade envoy to the WTO.

 

"The developing country members of the WTO agree that the MC8 (eighth ministerial conference) should at the least send out a strong signal that the weakest members (LDCs) should have something to gain from the trade system, even if the Doha talks are deadlocked," says Martin Khor, the executive director of the Geneva-based South Centre, an intergovernmental organisation of developing countries, which was established by former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere.

 

The Doha trade negotiations are grid-locked because of the differences between the U.S. and other industrialised countries on the one side, and emerging powers such as China, India, Brazil, and South Africa on the other.

 

The U.S. wants the leading developing countries to make onerous commitments given their current economic performance and status in the global trading system.

 

The developing countries refused to accept unilateral demands saying they will provide market access and make other commitments as per the Doha Development Agenda.

 

In the run-up to the ministerial meeting, the U.S. and some industrialised countries made it clear that they are not going to address the issues of duty-free and quota-free market access for the LDCs. They also will not address the reduction of cotton subsidies, which brought misery to African countries, unless China and other emerging nations like India, Brazil and South Africa also agree to the same commitments.

 

"The LDC package, particularly the duty-free and quota-free market access and cotton, are stalled," says Ambassador Luis Manuel Piantini Munnigh of the Dominican Republic, the chair for the informal group of developing countries.

 

"It is unfortunate that some developed countries are insisting that unless their market access issues are addressed first, they will not address the LDC package," he told IPS.

 

Under the Doha mandate, which was further clarified by the July 2004 framework agreement and the 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration, market-opening and subsidy- reduction commitments are clearly spelt out for developed and developing countries.

 

The Hong Kong ministerial declaration of 2005 says "developed-country members, and developing- country members declaring themselves in a position to do so, agree to implement duty-free and quota- free market access for products originating from LDCs" by 2008.

 

It further says that the "members (industrialised countries) facing difficulties at this time to provide market access as set out above shall provide duty-free and quota-free market access for at least 97 percent of products originating from LDCs, defined at the tariff line level, by 2008."

 

Except for the U.S., all other industrialised countries more or less adhered to this commitment. Even developing countries like China, India, and Brazil continue to provide market access to LDCs for over 90 percent of their industrial products.

 

Effectively, the eighth ministerial meeting, which begins on Dec. 15, is going to cause a "trade drought" for the LDCs in Africa and elsewhere without addressing their bread-and-butter demands in the global trading regime.

 

"However, it is becoming more and more clear that even such a minimal outcome is becoming difficult, due to the position of a very few, or even one (the United States) developed country," says Khor. (END)

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