ACCRA, Ghana – The Secretary-General of Ghana’s General Agricultural Workers Union has urged African countries “to stop dancing to other countries’ tune”. Speaking as a guest on the “Africa in Focus” Show with E.K.Bensah Jr, he urged Africa to be more proactive of what we can do in Ghana and try to connect agriculture with industry.
The discussion of the day centred on global trade discussions, and Africa’s place in it with a specific question of what happened in Kenya at the Tenth session of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks.
Joining Ofei-Nkansah for the discussion was civil society activist Sylvester Bagooro, Programmes Officer at the Political Economy Unit of advocacy organisation Third World Network-Africa, who, along with Ofei-Nkansah, was in Nairobi last December in the thick of discussions.
The WTO was created in 1995 to help facilitate global trade liberalisation, and many African countries have been battling with it since they joined. For example, since 2001, member states have been struggling to conclude the so-called Doha Development Round (DDR), which has remained abortive for a number of reasons. The rather-Byzantine nature of trade discussions means that the technicalities inherent in the global trading system already crowd out Africa.
According to Bagooro, the WTO sets the rules for Multilateral Trading System across the globe, and set up to see how countries can trade among themselves. “If one looks at what happened in Nairobi…a lot of issues came up”, he started. “If you look at what the Chair of the conference said, she described the conference as historic in that it delivered development to Africa.” Bagooro believes this is wrong, and has written a paper to this effect, in which he details three major things.
According to Bagooro, “over the 14 year period when they launched Doha, there was no development in Doha. It was called Doha work programme. The WTO Secretariat just added the word development — an editorial tag to appease anger of developing countries.” In his opinion, Africa lost out.
Pressed to explain what import surges are, Bagooro explained “when you have a lot of import flooding your market…so a case in point is poultry, tomatoes, and things that flood our market.” When we take a look at the supermarkets in Accra, he went on, “you see the things that I am talking about.” He went on: “when countries like Norway have import surges in their country, they use tariffs to block them. Now over the 14yr period, developing countries have been fighting for Special Safeguard Mechanisms.” Member states are able to invoke tariffs when they have too many imports, without consulting the WTO. The EU and U.S has it, with Japan being able to raise it as high as 700 percent on rice. Bagooro says that in Nairobi, it was not given out, adding it would be discussed in Geneva. There were other disappointments, which include public stock-holding; and export subsidies.
On his part, Nkansah explained that at the WTO, “the processes were not democratic at all. Civil society had limited space to express itself, and poor developing countries were not in the room taking decisions. And in fact, there was quite a bit of arm-twisting, black-mailing; divide and rule by big players at the WTO.”
Nkansah believes “we have a huge problem with market access because it entails us to lower our tariffs beyond a certain point, and allow free trade. Unfortunately, the powers that be…Japan, the US, EU continue to maintain high tariff barriers, while we…are forced…to lower quite a bit of the tariffs already.” According to him, “domestic support and market access are extremely-distorting in favour of rich, industrialised countries, and they go a long way to depress agriculture in Ghana.”
Going forward, Bagooro believes what African countries need to do immediately include developing positions that are clear; building an industrial base, “so that there are concrete things we can point to.” Additionally, Africa needs to “develop an industrial path” that it can defend. Africa must also beware of the Continental Free Trade Area, scheduled to be launched in 2017, which is likely to carry “new issues” through the backdoor.
Nkansah lamented why it is that “we are less industrialized today than we were forty years ago? That is outrageous!” he added. In his view, “we need to be more proactive, and be clear about what we can do in Ghana and West Africa.” Further, “we need to see how we can connect agriculture to industry, and ensure that the services, the development of the…subsectors are actually leveraging connection between agriculture and industry. And finally, if we are talking about agriculture, we are not likely to get very far without paying attention to the teeming number of smallholder farmers who have the potential to increase their agricultural productivity…and make a fantastic difference to the abysmally-disappointing agriculture that we have.”
The “Africa in Focus” Show is hosted by Emmanuel.K.Bensah Jr from 14h00 to 15h00 every Wednesday. You can download all podcasts from www.africainfocusradioshow.org. Follow the conversation on twitter on @africainfocus14, using #africainfocus