African leaders in Cairo must stand firm ahead of WTO meeting

Published: 1 November 2005

African trade ministers have the opportunity to set out a bold agenda for trade reforms that will benefit developing countries at the African Union meeting in Cairo this week, said an alliance of African and international campaigning organizations today.

African trade ministers have the opportunity to set out a bold agenda for trade reforms that will benefit developing countries at the African Union meeting in Cairo this week, said an alliance of African and international campaigning organizations today.

Six months before the next World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial in Hong Kong, African leaders should challenge rich countries to keep their promises to put development at the heart of the negotiations, said the alliance from Cairo on the eve of the meeting.

"With time running short before WTO members meet in Hong Kong, there is a pitiful lack of progress towards tackling the concerns of developing countries, heralded as central to these negotiations," said Cheikh Tidiane Dieye of ENDA-Tiers Monde, Senegal. "This is why it is crucial for African leaders to remain firm on their demands from the WTO."

"In the lead up to and during the last WTO Ministerial in Cancun, the unity and resolve of African countries played a key role in preventing the rich countries from forcing through a deal that would have been bad for development. Ahead of Hong Kong, African Ministers must work again to ensure the centrality of Africa's interests in the negotiations," said Muthoni Muriu from Oxfam International.

The alliance accused rich countries of unreasonably pressuring Africa to open its markets while continuing to defend their own protectionist regimes: "African Ministers should reject the straightjacket of radical tariff reductions, which would pose terrible risks for our domestic industries and jobs," said Ambassador Irumbu of Southern & Eastern Trade Information & Negotiation Institute (SEATINI) and former Uganda representative to the WTO. "Developing countries have the right to build up their industries, in the same way as the now-rich world had before them."

The groups also focused on the issue of US cotton subsidies, calling it a litmus-test for the Doha round: "For the past 3 years African cotton producers have not been able to make a decent living because of American subsidies. We hope that the AU will call for an immediate end to the cotton subsidies that have caused untold damage to hundreds of thousands cotton producers in some of the poorest African countries," said Sero Zorobouragui of the African Cotton Producers Organization.

In addition to WTO discussions, campaigners hope that Ministers will find time to deliberate on the implications of the ongoing bilateral negotiations between Europe and African regions – the so-called Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs): "Ministers need to turn their attention to the dangers of bilateral free trade agreements, like the EPAs, that could make matters worse for Africa than are already are at the WTO," said Tetteh Hormeku of Third World Network-Africa.

Contact Information

For further information and interviews, or to receive a copy of the Civil Society Statement contact: Mohamet Lamine Ndiaye in Cairo on 212 4368639 or Amy Barry on 44 (0)1865 312254 or 44 (0)7980 664397