As global trade talks open, African leaders seek fair terms

Banana trader. Masaka, Uganda. [Heather Thorkelson/Flickr]

The World Trade Organization must do more to support large-scale agriculture in Africa and develop a new, global approach to domestic farm subsidies, African leaders said on Monday (14 December).

Today, the WTO meets in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

At its first ministerial meeting in sub-Saharan Africa, African leaders say they hope to find ways to level the playing field as they seek a bigger role in global trade and increase profits from the raw materials they produce.

The Geneva-based WTO has been trying, and largely failing, to agree on a worldwide package of trade reforms since a meeting in Doha in 2001 hatched an ambitious plan for knocking down trade barriers. Its 162 members will meet until Friday, in Nairobi.

“Many of the developing countries, including Liberia, have been making the point that it is time to support agriculture,” Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told Reuters in an interview, saying Liberia needed technology and investment.

>>Read: Africa moves towards common market

One of the world’s poorest countries, Liberia spent much of the last two years battling the Ebola crisis that killed 4,800 people.

Sirleaf also said that African countries must continue to push for reducing subsidies by wealthy countries for cotton production, and other areas of farming. Such support made it impossible for developing nations to compete, she said.

Observers say it would be politically impossible for most Western countries to make those concessions, which are hugely popular in the nations that grant them.

“We hope – I’m not sure that I can say with confidence it will happen – that the reduction in subsides for farmers in developed countries will take place,” she said.

>>Read: EU-Africa free trade agreement ‘destroys’ development policy, says Merkel advisor

Although talks will be held in Africa, the topics will cover global trade issues that include pledges of trade assistance for poor nations. Liberia and Afghanistan will also be formally welcomed to the group.

The biggest winners from a global trade deal would be the world’s least-developed countries, most of whom are excluded from regional trade talks going on elsewhere, such as the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a speech on Monday that African countries had do more to industrialise their economies but should not be put at a disadvantage by high tariffs or other controls imposed by wealthier nations.

“African economies producing competitively should not be halted with defensive trade remedies,” Kenyatta said. “Standards should not be the next frontier of protectionism.” 

Subscribe to our newsletters