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WTO Conference Opens in Kenya


Director General of the World Trade Organisation, Roberto Carvalho, right, the Liberian President, Johnson Sirleaf, left, and Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, center, during the official opening of the Tenth WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, Dec. 15, 2015.

Director General of the World Trade Organisation, Roberto Carvalho, right, the Liberian President, Johnson Sirleaf, left, and Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, center, during the official opening of the Tenth WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, Dec. 15, 2015.

Kenya is hosting the ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization, the highest decision-making body within the WTO. Delegates had hoped this round of the Doha trade negotiations, the first to be held in Africa, would yield a breakthrough in efforts to address trade imbalances between developed and developing nations. But once again, a far-reaching resolution looks unlikely.

The World Trade Organization launched the Doha Development Agenda in 2001 and the negotiations have now lasted over 14 years. The Doha agenda seeks to remove trade barriers to help developing countries better integrate into the global economy.

Deodat Maharaj, deputy secretary-general of the Commonwealth, which represents 53 countries including India and several large economies in sub-Saharan Africa, says trade imbalances in Africa must first be addressed by internal policy changes.

“You cannot trade effectively if it is that you do not tap the sum total of your entire market, and to tap the sum total of the entire market of Africa, we need to open up corridors, economic corridors, so that trade from one country will be seamless,” said Maharaj.

Key debate

A key debate ahead of this year's ministerial conference, known as Nairobi MC10, has been whether to continue the now 14-year process or to start fresh. The United States and Europe want the talks begin on fresh ground. Nations like Kenya and South Africa want to see the Doha process through to the end.

Kipyego Cheluget, assistant secretary general of the Common Market for Eastern & Southern Africa (COMESA), says there is lots to resolve.

“This is a continuous process, a very, very difficult and complicated one. So I’m not really so sure that we can confidently say that after Nairobi MC10 all the problems that we have will be resolved. I think it might really be like the beginning of a process that will perhaps address some of the challenges,” said Cheluget.

Agricultural subsidies

A push from developing nations to remove agricultural subsidies in rich countries is expected to be a top item on the agenda this week.

Some accuse the WTO of favoring rich nations. Economist Yash Tandon, CEO of the Southern & Eastern Trade Information and Negotiations Institute, says the body does not hold solutions for Africa.

“The WTO is asymmetrical, unequal and the power is held by the Western countries in league with the secretariat of the WTO, which is totally biased against us [Africa]. So in that kind of climate where they are pushing for what they call free trade, it’s totally unbalanced against us,” said Tandon.

The four-day ministerial conference ends Friday.

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