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Uproar Against WTO Begins to Ring Across Africa

Uproar Against WTO Begins to Ring Across Africa

African Church Information Service
August 25, 2003
Posted to the web August 25, 2003

By Apuko Nyandolo

Alleged dirty tricks by the rich nations of the world at the
international trade arena is draining Third
World nations of their resources with no respite. It is a game of the
winner takes it all.

Apuko Nyandolo reports on the happenings at the World Trade
Organisation, that seem inclined to
marginalising developing countries, mostly African.

In 1995, developed nations of the world came up with an idea of
expanding space in the
international trade arena, to "open space" for Third World goods. The
World Trade Organisation
(WTO) was thus, born.

But this was not before some developments dating back to late 1940s,
when the United States (US)
unilaterally squashed a Bretton Woods initiative to establish an
International Trade Organisation
(ITO) as a rule-based global trading agency.

US had regarded such an institution as a possible threat to her economic
ambitions. In its place
therefore, came the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), a
system of multilateral trade
pacts, which had the blessings of President Harry Truman's

But with increased competition from other Northern countries and rising
imports from the South, the
US sought to adjust the GATT system of international free trade in the

With this in mind, the country promoted the concept of a global trading
organisation that would
provide a forum to settle trade differences with its economic rivals,
and which would more closely
"integrate" developing countries into a global free-market economy.

The ideology culminated in the birth of WTO, which today has a
membership of 146 countries,
among them developing countries, which joined en mass because of
attractive promises.

But unfortunately, trade co-operation via WTO has not yielded the
desired goal, particularly to
Africa. Instead, developing countries have continued to experience
declining export earnings. This
can be explained.

First, the WTO has not facilitated a level trading field as touted upon
its formation. There is a clear
imbalance in the trading system, where the developed world have employed
the use of agricultural
subsidies, thus putting at disadvantage, commodities from Africa, where
such subsidies have been
discouraged by World Bank and IMF policies.

While in Kenya alone, where about 60 percent of the population live on
less than a dollar a day, in
Europe, each cow receives US$ 2 a day in the form of subsidy, says Oduor
Ong'wen of EcoNews
Africa, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), and chairman of the NGO
Council in Kenya . He
alleges that half of European budget goes toward subsidies.

Under such circumstance, Africa, whose many countries depend on
agriculture for economic growth,
has as a result continued to experience devastating socio-economic

Living conditions of its people have deteriorated dramatically, in spite
of its nations being members of
the so-called supranational institutions like WTO, among others.
According to World Bank
projection, about 30 percent of the poor in the world by the turn of the
century was African.

Yet the continent is potentially the richest in the world. Diamond from
Sierra Leone alone, earns the
US and Europe US$50 billion a year. It is Africa that produces coltan, a
mineral that is used for
making parts of computers and cell phones. The same Africa produces
uranium that US relies on to
build its a military might.

Clearly, the rules by WTO are unfavourable to Africa. One condition is
that countries of the
continent have to export goods in their raw form, and not as
manufactured goods. That is why
Ghana has to continue exporting cocoa and import chocolate, a product of

Economic analysts question how Germany has become the leading exporter
of manufactured coffee,
yet the crop is not grown in the country.

Belgium is the leading exporter of diamond, which is not available in
its land.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which is marketed as an
institution meant to
offer opportunities to developing countries to access the United States
markets in a bid to promote
Africa-US trade relations, is beginning to raise suspicion.

Analysts argue that AGOA has political strings attached to it. Countries
enlisted under this privilege
must align themselves toward US political interest.

For this reason, organisations sympathetic to the plight of Africa feel
that the continent needs a
revolution of perception, and build a strategy of collective
self-reliance. This calls for a new way of
doing things, which must be people driven, since government
representatives appear to have failed
championing the interest of their countries.

It is for this reason that Heinrich Boll Foundation, Oxfam Great
Britain, and EcoNews Africa,
resorted to creating awareness amongst the ordinary public on the goings
on at the international

At a workshop they organised in Kenya recently, they revealed how the
WTO rules are designed
and made by the rich countries, noting that the interest of the
developing countries was not a priority
at the institution.

For example, when a trade dispute occurs, not every member is involved.

The powerful nations resort to the Green House, an inner unit within
WTO, where only the privileged
are allowed participation. This breeds suspicion among many members, but
then, they are coerced
into accepting the decisions made in the Green House.

"While lack of staff, capacity, and financial resources is a factor for
many developing countries, the
primary reason for this system of exclusionary consensus making is that
the Quad countries assume
that, as the main forces in the global economy, they have the right to
formulate its rules," says Aileen
Kwa, a policy analyst with Focus on Global South, a Bankok-based policy
and activist institute.

The scenario described indicates that the rule-based system of WTO is in
fact based more on power
than on rules, so that the powerful nations make the rules at the WTO,
just as they do at the IMF
and World Bank, argues Ongwen.

Organisations like the Heinrich Boll Foundation are urging the public to
join the big noise to demand
that trade be made fair. On the same wavelength, the public have been
prevailed upon not to buy
foreign products if the same can be produced locally.

"Kenya is not for sale!" was their rallying slogan at the workshop, held
to stir the public into action.

Since there is going to be a meeting in Cancun, Mexico next month,
Africa's negotiators are being
urged to demand fairness in WTO

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