What Doha means for Africa

Against a backdrop of war and global recession, trade ministers at the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Doha, Qatar, concluded what Director-General Mike Moore termed an “extraordinarily successful” conference. They agreed to a new round of negotiations aimed at opening vast new areas of the global economy to international competition. But the 9-14 November meeting also exposed the same kind of bitter divisions — among the major trading powers and between the industrial North and the developing South — that led to the failure of the last WTO ministerial meeting in Seattle in 1999 (see Africa Recovery, December 1999).

In addition to continuing talks over liberalization of trade in services and in agricultural products, the organization’s member states will begin negotiations on industrial tariffs and trade-related aspects of environmental protection, among other issues. Developing countries had initially opposed inclusion of a number of even more controversial issues, but relented when they won agreement that those talks would be postponed until 2003 — and then only on the basis of an “explicit consensus” that eluded the ministers in Doha. In addition, upcoming talks will review past trade agreements for inequities that African and other developing countries argue have unfairly denied them the benefits of increased global commerce.
For proponents of greater trade liberalization, the stakes in Doha seemed considerable. A second failure like the one in Seattle, combined with a deepening global recession, they felt, could have spelled a return to widespread protectionism, thereby worsening the world crisis. The costs of failure, said Mr. Moore, “would have been very high.”

However, with Africa’s share of world trade dropping and its people sliding deeper into poverty, the continent’s trade ministers might well have left Doha wondering about the costs of success, and who would pay for them.

Africa’s expectations

The Africa Group of negotiators went to Doha opposed to adding new issues to the trade agenda until a better deal is reached on those already covered. With the notable exception of South Africa, which announced beforehand that it would support the launch of a broad new round of negotiations, most African countries wanted Doha to concentrate on resolving outstanding “implementation issues,” such as the failure of Northern governments to reduce tariff barriers to African exports. The WTO General Council had, in fact, decided in December 2000 that the differences over these previous agreements, known as the Uruguay Round, should be resolved before or at Doha. Despite a commitment under Uruguay to reduce import duties, some developing country products exported to industrial nations, such as sugar, metals, cereals and textiles, continue to face tariff barriers, in some cases of more than 100 per cent.
After years of trade talks, many African exports still face high tariffs in Northern markets.

 

Read more at Arab Herald*

 

* – Please note the following adjustment to the above article from Arab Herald: KY Amoako is the founder and President of the African Center for Economic Transformation. He was the former Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

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