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Africa lashes rich nations over WTO talks

African countries lambasted rich nations for failing to show flexibility in global trade negotiations.

india Updated: Apr 15, 2006 14:34 IST

African countries lambasted rich nations on Friday for failing to show flexibility in global trade negotiations and expressed doubts that a World Trade Organisation (WTO) deadline at the end of April would be met.

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, speaking in Rwanda en route to the 53-member African Union (AU) meeting in Kenya, also cast doubt on the deadline for a deal on farm and industrial goods which is crucial to an overall global trade pact.

"The negotiations are in an advanced stage. It's moving, but not moving fast enough. Not that it's blocked, and not that it has reached a deadlock. But it's moving slowly and probably too slowly," Lamy said, adding he would take a decision next week.

Experts say Africa could be the leading beneficiary of a successful Doha round of WTO negotiations. But many Africans say so far the negotiations have been slow and failed to take into account the interests of the poor.

"Not much progress has been made on the negotiations on the major issues of interest and concern for Africa," said Elizabeth Tankeu, AU commissioner for trade and industry.

"The developed countries have not mustered the political will," she added in a speech in Nairobi.

The Doha round was launched in 2001 with the aim of lowering global trade barriers to boost the world economy and lift millions out of poverty.

The WTO's 149 members are supposed to agree by April 30 on how to cut agriculture subsidies and tariffs amid bickering between the European Union, United States and Brazil on who should move first to open farm or manufacturing markets.

The rich nations say they want fewer trade barriers for their industrial goods and services to access some of the well-off developing countries like Brazil, India, China and South Africa.

But the rich nations are not willing to allow the poorer countries to open their own markets.

In a declaration circulated at the Nairobi conference, the African ministers said they were "deeply concerned" over a lack of progress on the two issues and again blamed rich nations for the delays.

"I don't believe that we are reaching any modalities for conclusion at the end of this month," said Kenya's Mukhisa Kituyi, the new chairman of the AU Trade Ministers group.

Tankeu said the developed countries seemed "more concerned about protecting their own interests".

"North must give more": Lamy

Africa, the world's poorest continent, has long complained it is being marginalised. It has demanded that rich nations remove farm subsidies and asked for greater market access.

The continent also wants to be assured long-standing preferential export deals would not be eroded, and is seeking a bigger markets share from more developed countries.

"Our brothers, the more advanced developing countries such as China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Egypt should open up their markets for our products," Kenya's Vice President Moody Awori told the African ministers.

Lamy was sympathetic to Africa's position.

"Northern countries have to give more than they take. It's not always easy to convince an average congressman that the US should reduce subsidies for the benefit of Africa," he said.

"It's not easy, but at the end of the day truth will prevail, even if after a bit of wrangling and discussions."

The Doha round needs to be wrapped up this year or risk being sunk by the mid-2007 expiry of President George W Bush's power to negotiate trade deals without input from Congress.

The United States and EU have urged AU nations to apply pressure at the world talks and push for an ambitious outcome.

First Published: Apr 15, 2006 14:34 IST

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