From: "Rex Brown" <email@example.com>
Subject: Trying Not to Be Caught Napping in Trade
Date: Tue, 14 Apr 1998 23:18:18 +0200
Trying Not to Be Caught Napping in Trade
13 April 1998
HARARE, (Apr. 10) IPS - African states no longer want to be like guests invited to dinner
and forced to follow a predetermined menu, according to the continent's trade ministers.
It is high time, they said here at the first meeting of ministers of trade and experts of
the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the African Economic Community (AEC), that
they play an active part in designing the agenda of trade negotiations and shaping their
The aim of the Apr. 6-9 meeting was to finalize Africa's preparation for the second
ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to be held in Geneva from May
18 to 20.
The idea was to avoid being caught by surprise, as occurred at the first WTO ministerial
meeting, held in Singapore in December.
While the main industrialized nations went to the December meeting to defend clearly
defined interests, proposals from the African countries came mainly in reaction to those
tabled by their developed partners.
This, observers say, is due at least in part to Africa's failure to clearly define its
own development path and the steps it aims to take to pursue it, including in the area of
Since they tend not to have a positive agenda, African countries have found themselves
seeking time-bound exemptions from trade obligations instead of trying to minimize the
negative impact of those obligations, which make it harder for them to use policy
instruments to achieve developmental objectives.
On the other hand, some of the industrialized countries have been actively trying to
introduce new issues into the WTO's agenda, including the link between trade and
investment, labor standards and environmental requirements.
This compounds the difficulties of African states since they have already been struggling
with limited resources to meet obligations arising out of the WTO agreements they have
The African trade ministers said that before any new issue is added, consideration needs
to be given to their nations' weak institutional and technical capacity for trade
The ministers noted that they were mainly concerned with not being bombarded with new
issues by the developed countries.
"Any new negotiations are premature as the WTO agenda is already overburdened," the
ministers agreed at the end of their meeting. "African countries need to identify their
interests and concerns with the respect to possible new issues on world trade."
Civil society organizations present at the ministers' meeting also felt that Africa
should oppose the inclusion of new issues in the WTO's agenda.
They also noted that African nations needed to press for a shift in the present
orientation of the WTO, which is being used as a tool for furthering the economic
interests of some countries and their companies.
"We are of the view that the new issues which were added at the Singapore ministerial
meeting which will before the May WTO conference represent another set of levers intended
to further prise our economies open for the benefit of the economies of the North and
TNC's," said the African Trade Network (ATN), a grouping of NGOs, trade unions, advocacy
groups and research institutions.
May's ministerial conference will consider two main items: implementation of the WTO work
program and future activities of the WTO. The general preference of the developing
countries is to focus on the work program so as to raise some of their concerns in key
The ministers agreed that, to enhance the effective participation of African countries in
the multilateral trading system, a national trade policy framework needed to be defined
as an integral part of national development objectives.
Other recommendations focused on the need to develop strong focal points on WTO and trade
policy issues in Africa's capitals to enhance the competitiveness of African countries
and to strengthen African missions in Geneva, both qualitatively and quantitatively. More
than 20 African countries are not represented in Geneva and those that are generally have
too few people and even fewer qualified experts in the various aspects of trade.
African countries, they recommended, should ensure that multilateral trade rules support
their efforts to build their export capacity and their technological and human-resource
potential, and to exploit their national resources.
The meeting was attended by trade ministers from Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Burundi,
Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia,
Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Libya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia,
Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.