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Africa worries over slow pace on Doha Round, EPAs talks

Published: 16-JAN-07

Addis Ababa - Concerned with the erosion of the development dimension in the Doha Round of global trade talks, African trade ministers are due to hold an extraordinary session here Tuesday to underscore their shared interest in a pro-development outcome of the Round.

The talks have been suspended since July 2006, but Pascal Lamy, the director-general of the World trade Organisation (WTO), is expected to tell the one-day ministerial conference at the headquarters of the African Union (AU) when the negotiations would resume.

Trade experts from all AU Member States Monday started doing groundwork on two declarations, which the ministers will adopt as continental positions on the Doha Round and on the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between Africa and the European Union (EU).

According to sources at the experts meeting, the declaration on the Doha Round will express the continent's strong opposition to the erosion of the development dimension and to any attempt to modify the existing mandate because of the special situation of African countries and the need to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

On the basis of the progress made in the WTO and the EPAs negotiations, a Kenyan delegate, whose country currently chairs the AU Trade Ministers Conference, said it would be important to assess progress vis-a-vis the development dimension that the world promised in Doha.

"Africa must pronounce itself on what elements of negotiations must be part of the final package to ensure that it does not lose out in these talks.

"The future of Africa depends on our active participation in both negotiations and this meeting should give clear guidance to our negotiators.

"We must remain focused on our development agenda that contains how to deepen trade amongst ourselves and how to benefit from trade between ourselves and the rest of the world," said the delegate.

At the launch of the Doha Round in November 2001, WTO members pledged to place the needs and interests of developing countries, especially the least developed, at the heart of the trade negotiations.

The negotiations remain deadlocked because the flexibility announced in general terms by major players had not been translated into real changes in positions, particularly in what refers to corrections of restrictions and distorting domestic support in the agriculture sector.

"The agriculture sector, on which most Africans depend for subsistence, holds the key to unlocking the rest of the Doha Development Agenda," said Cristina Hernandez, trade policy advisor with the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

"Agriculture is equally the sector where most African countries at present hold their greatest growth potential.

"For this reason, bringing back on track the multilateral trade talks under the principles of transparency and inclusiveness, represents for Africans the hope of improving their living standards and attaining the objectives of the MDGs," she added.

Regarding the EPA negotiations, trade wonks see African countries as facing a challenging endeavour to decide on the terms under which they would continue with the talks.

A draft of the ministerial declaration on EPAs calls on the European Commission to respond positively and adequately to key concerns of Africa.

These include failure of the negotiations to have a development focus, the imbalance in the negotiations towards trade liberalisation, and narrowly construing economic integration in Africa as only a process of adopting common external tariffs.

Other concerns are the rigid interpretation of compatibility with WTO rules, and lack of appreciation of the major adjustment challenges that African economies would face in implementing the EPAs.

Also, a fundamental divergence of view remains in relation to a call by the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries for the EU to make binding commitment for additional resources to cover the implementation of EPAs. -panapress

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