World Economy

African Ministers Demand WTO Promote Just Growth

African Ministers Demand WTO Promote Just Growth African Ministers Demand WTO Promote Just Growth

Mixed expectations and goals are emerging as the four-day 10th World Trade Organization ministerial meeting opened its first ministerial conference in Africa in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on Tuesday. African ministers are pushing for major changes to benefit developing countries.

African leaders demanded the end of agricultural subsidies to the developed countries to improve its competitiveness in the food market, Yahoo reported.

The leaders said the benefits to the agricultural sector of the best economies restrict the main exports of African products.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in his welcome address called the gathering, attended by 160 trade ministers of the member countries of the global trade body, "historic and crucial".

He said farmers in the continent cannot compete against the great benefits that their peers in developed countries receive.

Agriculture is a very important productive activity in Africa that is determining for economic growth and job generation, but such distortions in the sector have contributed to totally suppressing its potential, the president asserted.

"This conference will boost trade and investment, create employment and ultimately contribute to poverty eradication," he said.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, addressed participants and proposed that less developed countries should be supported to boost their trade and achieve sustainable development goals. Liberia is set to become a member of the WTO this week.

From India’s perspective, two other proposals also have importance. The first is on public stockholding for food security purposes, which is related to the requirement in the WTO agreement to calculate subsidies based on reference prices that are nearly three decades old.

The second is a Group of 33 proposal on special safeguards mechanism for developing countries to protect agriculture against surges in import during times when low prices prevail in international markets.

Resistance Increases

The fundamental question before the conference is whether the Doha Round should be continued to a conclusion in terms of its mandate, or closed without further ado. While developing countries are almost unanimous that the Doha Round must continue, the three big players—the US, EU and Japan—are advocating its unconditional closure.

Another big issue dividing the membership is on the expansion of the WTO agenda to cover new trade-related issues such as investment and competition policy.

This current round of negotiations, known as the Doha round, has been going on for 14 years. The original goals were to liberalize global trade between developed and developing countries by reducing subsidies, removing customs barriers and opening markets to all members.

However there are large rifts between developed countries like the United States and the European Union and big emerging economies like China and India, which have turned into rivals.

The US and the EU believe that these countries should no longer insist on getting preferential trade conditions that were originally aimed at boosting the development of poor countries.

China and India disagree and are asking for negotiations to continue. Developing countries like Kenya and Liberia are pushing for greater access to markets but are largely stuck in the middle of this dispute.

WTO chief Roberto Azevedo has opted for a more optimistic tone.

"I think if we go out of Nairobi with renewed confidence and with a common vision for the future that will be a fundamental achievement," he said.

Challenges Remain

A partial deal focused on agriculture export competition and trade development in the world's poorest nations is also possible this week, but experts admit the chances of this are shaky at best.

"It will attempt to deliver on the elusive agreements of the Doha Development Agenda,” the European Center for Development Policy Management think tank said. "However, despite previous efforts, scant progress has been made and a breakthrough at Nairobi seems unlikely."

Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed, who is chairing the conference, has warned that a failure to strike a deal, requiring every member's agreement, would raise questions about the negotiating role of the WTO.