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African, US, EU Trade Officials Try to Revive Global Talks - 2004-02-18


African trade ministers and officials from the European Union and the United States have begun a two-day informal meeting in Kenya in the hope of reviving stalled global trade talks.

A senior Kenyan trade official, Elijah Manyara, says the meeting is an informal exchange of views. Among those attending are African trade ministers, European Union Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, representatives of the World Trade Organization and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick.

About a dozen of the 18 or so invited trade ministers made it to the meeting.

The African trade ministers are expected to push for the reduction of agricultural subsidies in Europe and the United States, so that African producers can compete on the world's markets.

The ministers are also expected to push for a tariff structure to protect their markets from cheap imports from Europe and the United States.

Mr. Manyara would not give details of specific proposals, but says they are primarily aimed at preventing trade distortions in the agricultural sector.

He says western farm subsidies are devastating Africa's agriculture.

"For example, if we are not subsidizing wheat, and then you find that developed countries are subsidizing wheat, these ones can enter the Kenyan market," he explained. "They can come and displace even a small farmer locally in the domestic market. Even he cannot be able to sell in the domestic market, and this is the whole issue about subsidies."

The two-day meeting in the port city of Mombasa is a follow-up to the failed World Trade Organization talks held last year in Cancun, Mexico. There, rich and developing countries clashed on the issue of agricultural subsidies and other trade distortions.

A study released last August by the International Food Policy Research Institute said subsidies and other protectionist measures in rich countries cost developing countries about $24 billion annually in lost agricultural and agro-industrial income.

The study said sub-Saharan African countries lose about two billion dollars a year in agricultural income. According to the study, European Union farm policies have the greatest impact on Africa's farming.

A spokesperson for Mr. Lamy said earlier, the EU is not coming to the talks with new proposals.

The U.S. position in the trade talks is that agricultural subsidies in the West cause problems for Africa's farmers and should be reduced, both by Washington and the EU.