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Developing Nations at Ghana Summit Worry About Prices, Trade


Heads of state from 79 nations in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific are ending a summit in Ghana calling on the international community to stabilize financial markets and prices for oil and food. The leaders also asked for greater flexibility in negotiating trade agreements with the European Union, as we hear from VOA's Scott Bobb in our West Africa Bureau in Dakar.

Delegates to the summit in Accra of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) nations noted that their countries have experienced relatively little of the recent turmoil seen in western stock markets and financial institutions.

But many expressed fears that their economies will bear the brunt of the economic slowdown that is expected to result.

The director of Ghana's Development Policy Institute, Nii Moi Thompson, acknowledged that global market forces are putting pressure on basic commodities. But he says conditions within developing nations also contribute to higher prices.

"Credit in Africa is exceedingly high. In Ghana you pay as much as 30 percent for interest rates to do business," he said.

In addition, he says many ACP nations maintain rigid domestic exchange rates. These favor domestic exports if they are low but put pressure on consumer prices.

And he says subsidies to farmers are also a serious issue but adds that these can have positive effects and therefore should be studied closely.

The main focus of the ACP summit, however, was primarily on a controversial series of Economic Partnership Agreements advocated by the European Union.

EU officials say these agreements are meant to encourage trade and open markets between Europe and the ACP which represents 300 million people in some of the world's least wealthy nations.

The World Trade Organization has ruled that an earlier set of EU accords with ACP nations was illegal.

But some ACP members oppose the agreements because they are negotiated separately with each of the ACP's 79 member-nations.

They say this weakens the collective bargaining power of the group as a whole and favors the more powerful EU block of nations. They want more time to allow ACP nations to develop a common position on the agreements.

Economist Thompson says very few ACP governments have seriously studied EPAs and their effects. "The opposition to EPA has become something fashionable that people do without thinking through the problems and emerging with solutions, lasting solutions not just as far as EPAs are concerned but also as far as Africa's economic well-being is concerned," he said.

He acknowledges that EPAs can cause a loss of jobs in certain sectors of the economy but says they also can encourage job creation in other sectors. And he says they can provide a force for economic reform and more open markets.