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Why Africa Should Pay Attention To WTO Talks


Next week, the World Trade Organization’s ministerial talks open in Hong Kong. What happens at that five-day meeting (12/13-12/18)could have major benefits for African and other developing nations. But rich countries would have to make major changes in their polices.

Among those who’ll be following developments in Hong Kong is Evelyn Herfkens. She was appointed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan as coordinator of the United Nations Millennium Campaign. From New York, she tells English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua why African nations should pay careful attention to the trade talks.

“Because this is the one and only, since decades, opportunity for African countries to actually negotiate serious cuts in agricultural subsidies in rich countries and to get access to the markets of the rich consumers in rich countries for their products,” she says.

However, the issue of farm subsidies has been stalled of late. Of that, Ms. Herfkens says, “It has, but this is the very first time that at least in principle both the United States and the European Union are prepared to move to do something about these subsidies. Now, what they want is too little and a little bit late. But at least for the first time in history there is movement. Until today, agriculture trade has been the most distorted of any kind of trade and at the detriment of the two thirds of the world’s poor who actually live in rural areas.”

President Bush and other world leaders, however, may be pressured by farmers in their countries not to cut the subsidies. Ms. Herfkens says the subsidy benefits mainly go to rich farms in the US and Europe and that taxpayers end up paying more in taxes and for food.

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