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WTO Hong Kong: Will Africa get a fair deal?

By Vision Reporter

Added 8th December 2005 03:00 AM

THE European Union and the United States hope to have another set of agreements signed during the sixth ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Hong Kong from December 13-18. Africa’s fate may be sealed in perpetuity as a market for finished products and source of cheap lab

THE European Union and the United States hope to have another set of agreements signed during the sixth ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Hong Kong from December 13-18. Africa’s fate may be sealed in perpetuity as a market for finished products and source of cheap lab

By Joe Nam

THE European Union and the United States hope to have another set of agreements signed during the sixth ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Hong Kong from December 13-18. Africa’s fate may be sealed in perpetuity as a market for finished products and source of cheap labour and raw material.

Africa can say no

But Africa can say no. Unlike in the 19th Century when native African rulers were presented with agreements to sign, whose implication they did not understand, African trade ministers in Hong Kong have some knowledge about the nature and implications of the agreement Europe and the United States have put on the table.

Courtesy of civil society organisations such as Oxfam, SEATINI, CDI, action aid, African trade ministers have been informed that these agreements will, in their present form, block Africa’s agricultural products from entering European and American markets while allowing their cheap foods and products to be dumped in Africa.

They have been told that these agreements will open Africa’s young markets to full blast competition with European firms providing cheaper goods, products and services which will kill young African industries and seal Africa’s fate at the bottom of the world’s economic structure.

Past experiences in trade negotiations have, however, shown that the EU and the US have always deceitfully had unfair trade deals signed by African governments.

Africa can be prosperous

There is now a harmonised figure of Africa’s astronomical debt. But experts agree that if the European Union were to cut the US$60b it dishes out to its farmers every year as subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the United States also cuts the over US$50b paid to farmers as subsidies and both allowed African countries to export her agricultural and other products to their market, poverty would be wiped out of the African continent within one decade.
But the EU and US are not owning up.

The EU has offered to address agriculture and other issues raised by developing countries in previous trade negotiations, if their actions will be matched by that of the US.
While refusing to concede to Africa’s proposals at WTO negotiations, both the US and the EU are pushing for more concessions from Africa. This is, despite the fact that Europe and America have not implemented promises made in previous agreements.

Why African countries are poor

Africa’s multi-faceted problems continue to be a subject of world debate. African scholars trace Africa’s problem from Slave Trade in the 15th Century during which robust, young Africans were trafficked to work in plantations in America. Others trace it to colonisation and neo-colonisation by multi-nationals.

Euro-centric scholars meanwhile play down the effects of slave trade and colonisation arguing that Africa’s problem is inherent to Africa and comes from the Africans themselves.

Why, they point out, have Asian nations such as Malaysia and Singapore been able to turn round their historical disadvantages and build strong economies when they were worse-off compared to African countries, at independence in the 1960s.

Colonial economy relegated African states to the production and export of cheap raw materials. Consequently, African economies still suffer chronic unfavourable balance and terms of trade.

To run their governments, African heads of states borrow from the World Bank and other international financial institutions at unfair terms, but with the knowledge of the usefulness of the money in maintaining political power and control. Worse, the borrowed monies disappear through corruption and unfair conditionalities set by lenders which ensures the money goes back to the lenders through buying the lenders’ goods, services and ‘expertise’.

In the end African countries are caught in a debt trap, as interest to loans piles up. Reinforced by the pompous lifestyle of the African elite, the prevalence of diseases such as Malaria and HIV/AIDS, a dysfunctional education system and general apathy, the circle of debt and underdevelopment repeats.
And when the time for trade negotiation rounds comes, Africa finds herself in a weak position that even air tickets and hotel bills for officials at negotiations are paid by the EU and the US.

The deceit of Europe, America
Europe and America are dying to get agreements which favour them, signed at the WTO upcoming conference. The WTO Director General Pascal Lamy is quoted recently as saying, “We all surely have an interest in preserving what has been achieved until now or we shall lose everything.”

But Europe and America industrialised and became wealthy as a result of an internal transformational process, without foreign hindrance. Even when the economy of Europe was totally destroyed during the World War II, the only condition the Marshall Plan required from Europe to help her recover was political subscription to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

But when it comes to Africa, good will to help is not discernible. From aid, to debt relief to bi-lateral and multi-lateral agreements, everything is designed to benefit developed nations.

Experts point out that if the EU and the US were genuine about commitments to improve the lot of poor nations. They would phase out domestic and other trade distorting subsidies given to their farmers. They would unconditionally write-off all debt owed by African countries. They would agree to proposals made by developing nations at trade talks and deliver on their promises already made in past rounds of trade negotiations.

But the humane demands of developing nations is not compatible with the nature of western capitalism. The exploitative nature of western capital has been expounded on at length in the academia. From the writings of I.V. Lenin who identified colonialism as a spill over of European capitalism, to Ugandan born Professor Yash Tandon whose writings show how Africa is being swindled in the present time, the powerful force of capitalism and how it is manipulating world systems and peoples to reward a few while spreading poverty to millions, is exposed.

At the head of it are the Western multi-national corporations who pressure western governments and politicians to extract treaties that ensure the safety and growth of Western capital and investments anywhere in the globe, at any cost and without regard to the environment and peoples livelihood.

Africa’s friends in the West
Western capitalism does not enslave only Africans but also nationals of America and European states. Although workers in the west demanded for their rights over the years and won important concessions in the labour law, unemployment benefits and other social security benefits from the government, the public in the west understand the downside of capitalism and its potential for evil.
It is no surprise therefore that they have stood for Africa and clashed with security at world trade conferences and economic forums whenever they occur.

“What is surprising,” says Jane Nalunga Uganda Country Director of Southern and Eastern Trade Information and Negotiations Institute SEATINI, “is that Africa’s poor watch on nonchalantly as trade deals, which will enslave the present and succeeding generations in Africa, are made.”

Oxfam, the UK charity working to reduce poverty has cautioned African countries that no deal at Hong Kong is better than a bad deal. Whether African Ministers of trade agree awaits to be seen.

The writer is a freelance
journalist

WTO Hong Kong: Will Africa get a fair deal?

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