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Kenya Launches Global Trade Reform Campaign - 2004-05-12

In Kenya, a group of more than 10 organizations has launched their part of a campaign to convince world leaders to reform global trade rules to enable farmers in developing countries to benefit from international trade.

The chairman of the Kenya National Farmers' Union, Nduati Kariuki, tells VOA that fair trade, not charitable donations, is the way to help the struggling farmers and economies in developing countries.

He says farmers in countries such as Kenya lose out the most in the current international trade system.

"A consumer in America pays as much as $20 per kilo of coffee, whereas the farmer in Kenya gets 70 cents out of that. That is something that should prick the conscience of any consumer in America or in Europe," he said.

Mr. Kariuki was among officials present at the launch of the Kenyan part of an international signature campaign to push for the reform of trade rules.

The campaign argues it is unfair that Western countries spend an estimated $1 billion a day subsidizing their own farmers, while developing country governments are not allowed to do the same. The campaign says it is also unfair that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund require that developing country governments cut their tariff rates on agricultural products and other imports from Western countries, while Western countries can protect their own markets from developing country imports.

Western officials say the trade policies are designed, in part, to encourage developing countries to adopt sound economic policies. One U.S. official said the United States would eliminate its own agricultural subsidies if all other countries would be willing to do the same.

But campaign officials are not convinced by such arguments. They say the current trade rules and other policies make it almost impossible for developing country farmers to compete in world markets and get a fair price for their produce.

As an example, the chief executive officer of Kenya's Cereal Growers' Association, David Nyameino, tells VOA that Kenyan farmers charge an average of $13, for a 90-kilogram bag of maize.

Meanwhile, he says, because of subsidies, an imported 90-kilo bag of maize can cost as little as $9.

"If the ground was level, perhaps we are very competitive," he said. "Perhaps the cost of production in the developed world is also over a thousand shillings. If it was not subsidized, we could have been equal. There was no reason for us to import."

At the Kenya National Farmers' Union's Nduati Kariuki says the way to solve the problem is for Western governments to stop subsidizing their farmers.

"Our recommendation is that those subsidies should be removed so that we can compete at par," he said. "If it is politically impossible to remove those subsidies in Europe, in America, then the kind of benefits that the farmers in Europe and America are getting from these subsidies, they should find a way of passing the same benefits to the farmers in Africa."

Organizers of the campaign to change the trade rules aim to collect one million signatures in Kenya. They say five million people around the world have signed the petition.

The signatures are periodically presented to trade officials at gatherings such as the World Trade Organization meeting last year in Cancun.