Oxfam fears grim prospects for Africa in WTO negotiations

Published: 1 November 2005

The world’s biggest trading nations meet in Kenya tomorrow (Mar 2-4) hoping to make progress on new global trade rules – but international agency Oxfam fears that the end result may impoverish Africa further, rather than help it.

The world’s biggest trading nations meet in Kenya tomorrow (Mar 2-4) hoping to make progress on new global trade rules – but international agency Oxfam fears that the end result may impoverish Africa further, rather than help it.

“The grand promises of our leaders to make poverty history in 2005 will be made or broken in a handful of meetings like this one,” said Oxfam Make Trade Fair (MTF) spokesperson Elizabeth Mueni about the World Trade organization’s “mini-ministerial” in Mombasa, a precursor to the WTO’s full ministerial meeting in Hong Kong in December.

“Hong Kong will decide future trade rules in agriculture and industrial products,” said MTF spokesperson Celine Charveriat. “But with just ten months to go, Africa’s key concerns around liberalization and erosion of their access into rich country markets are still being ignored.”

“Tomorrow’s talks are a litmus test of whether rich countries are serious about rewriting global trade rules that will help poor countries and foster ‘development’. We’d love to be more optimistic about the outcome,” Charveriat said.

Africa desperately needs an agreement that gives it a bigger, fairer slice of global agricultural trade. Three hundred million Africans live on less than $1 a day. Africa captures only 3.6% of world exports ($24b) despite having 17% of the world’s population dependent on agriculture for food and income.

Worse, Africa is now becoming ever more dependent on imports and food aid because African farmers cannot compete against exports dumped from OECD countries.

“African agriculture is in crisis. But in response rich countries spend their time devising more imaginative ways of protecting their own markets and their largest farmers, while forcing open other nations to unfair competition,” Mueni said.

Tomorrow’s meeting comes at the same time (Mar 3) that the WTO is due to confirm its ruling against the US for using trade-distorting subsidies to dump cheap cotton onto world markets. This widely-condemned practice is causing huge suffering among poor farmers, particularly in West Africa, who cannot compete against the world’s largest treasury.

“Cotton has been a flash-point in recent trade negotiations. The US would show good faith today by offering to restructure its cotton industry, in the interests of fair global competition and to drive this ‘development’ round of trade talks to a successful end,” Mueni said.

Contact Information

For further information contact:
Romain Benichhio: romain.benichhio@oxfaminternational.org , 41 22 321 2372
Sophie Powell: sopowell@oxfam.org.uk , 254 2 271 5003