Last week’s US visit by President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal to address the United Nations General Assembly and hold consultations with Africa’s western trading partners in New York and Washington highlighted his country’s push for trade liberalization. African Studies Professor Sulayman Nyang of Washington’s Howard University says he believes President Wade is trying to expand markets for African goods and remove protectionist tariffs and farm subsidies that raise the barriers that keep African goods off American and European shelves.
“A big problem really is how can the people from the agricultural sections of the United States, who have vested interests in foreign exports, be willing to allow some degree of lesser subsidies, that there’s going to be AGOA (the African Growth and Opportunity Act) 2,3,4, and 5 in coming decades, it has to reflect changing political dynamics within the American cultural sector vis-à-vis a growing seriousness of purpose among African leaders who are interested in raising the level of political productivity, while at the same time, negotiating successfully for exports of their products,” he said
When President Wade was in Washington last week, he pushed his trade liberalization agenda by declaring,”I don’t want money and I don’t want handouts. I want trade opportunities.” Professor Nyang sees President Wade pursuing three objectives: The first includes pushing his agenda of trade liberalization through AGOA, a US trade incentives program for African countries that began in the 1990’s during the Clinton Administration.
“AGOA has gained some ground. But they are facing some problems, particularly the cotton producers in West Africa have been raising hell because they feel that when it comes to AGOA, the cotton lobby in America has been able to prevent them from coming in as legitimate competitors. There are many other issues, like coffee, that could have access, depending on which African countries are included in the list of eligibles.
President Wade’s second objective, according to Professor Nyang, is building a strategic framework for free trade advocacy under NEPAD, the African Union-endorsed New Partnership for African Development.
“He is somewhat involved with (South African) President (Thabo) Mbeki and the former president of Nigeria (Olusegun Obasanjo) with NEPAD. And of course under NEPAD, they had this idea that if they could really create responsible governments, they should be able to bargain. They can then negotiate not only with America, but also with the Economic Union, where you also have similar trade arrangements to protect their agricultural sector. So I think that what people like Wade would like to see is that if the free trade notion that gains currency among certain Americans, especially conservatives and libertarian Americans, seems to be true, then Senegal alongside many of the other African countries would have a better say in that regard,” he said.
Nyang says the third set of issues Senegal and other West African countries are grappling with includes several nature-related challenges of overcoming the problems of African desertification, drought, migration, and population drift.
“Wade is very much aware of another serious problem affecting Senegal. Desertification has to a large extent eaten away a sizeable part of the Senegalese agricultural cake and you do have a high number of Senegalese, Malians, Mauritanians going all the way to Ethiopia and Somalia. They are now the victims of drought, local desertification, migration of people. And this is creating elephantiasis in the urban cities. And so in order to really address the rural exodus problem, the export problem, the tariff problem, these all add up to the problem he is talking about,” he said.