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African Ministers, Trade Experts to Discuss Common Front


Trade experts from all over Africa met Wednesday in the Kenyan capital as part of the African Union's Ministers of Trade conference. The conference's aim is to get African trade ministers to come up with common positions on trade issues ahead of a World Trade Organization meeting later this year.

The World Trade Organization's so-called Doha round of negotiations is scheduled to conclude at the end of this year.

The Doha round is meant to address the trade and development concerns of poor countries in Africa and elsewhere in such areas as agriculture, the cotton industry, and countries' access to international markets for products and services.

African trade ministers, experts, and other officials are meeting in Kenya this week to present a common front to prepare for negotiation deadlines before and in December.

Kenyan assistant trade minister Abdul Ali Hassan says a key concern is that African countries are not competitive in world markets primarily because developed countries have adopted policies that protect their own economies at the expense of Africa.

"The substantive issue between Africa and our development partners is to negotiate for a fair playing field in trade," Hassan said. "Africa is supposed to have a comparative advantage in agricultural and primary commodities, but the developed countries provide subsidies, and thus African farmers cannot compete."

Hassan says, to develop fully, African countries need markets that are truly open.

"Although we enjoy some preferences in the EU [European Union] market, some of our products are subjected to high tariff peaks and escalation," he said. "In view of the above, Africa needs to negotiate for a new pact guaranteeing open market for her exports. Such a commitment will prove to both sides that the long period of marginalization is over."

The British aid agency Oxfam Wednesday released a statement calling on the World Trade Organization to take seriously the African Union's positions and concerns.

The agency says that, although the European Union and the United States have agreed to eliminate agricultural export subsidies by 2013, they have not protected Africa from surges in imports, food dumping, and other harmful practices.

Mouhamet Lamine Ndiaye is a policy adviser for Oxfam International. He says there are many shortcomings in the proposals being negotiated and that World Trade Organization deadlines do not give enough time to resolve these problems.

"The development issues should be at the center of these negotiations. What we have found out is that developed countries are pushing developing countries, but mainly African countries, so that African countries open up their market and that would be very negative for the farmers, for the poor population, and for our economies," Ndiaye said. "We need to slow down, and we should not just sign this declaration just because there is a deadline in 2006."

Oxfam Wednesday presented Kenyan Trade Minister Mukisa Kituyi with a petition signed by 350,000 Kenyans calling for trade reforms that would help African economies.

In addition to issues related to the Doha negotiations, the trade ministers are also expected to discuss migration issues, cooperation with China, economic agreements with the European Union, the formation of an African common market, and policies to regulate development aid.