African agenda sidelined as ACP/EU talks advance

Nairobi- Kenya (PANA) -- Despite massive protests by African farmers over the lofty agricultural subsidies granted to European farmers, experts say consumers everywhere have been benefiting from lower commodity prices.
African countries say the subsidies have affected trade in agricultural products, further impoverishing their farmers, while European Union (EU) officials say despite pressure to radically cut down on the agricultural subsidies, and the support has led to cheaper products.
  Africa and the 25-member EU are negotiating an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), a new trade pact that will ensure a reciprocal trading regime; meaning African countries must concede something in the form of opening up their markets to EU industrial goods.
Harvey Rouse, the head of Tourism and Trade Commission at the EU delegation to Kenya, said the EU was not seeking a direct market entry into Africa immediately after the new trade pact expected to be enforced in 2008, but was looking at entering African markets gradually.
Currently, African farmers sell their goods to Europe with no duty charged on incoming products because of the non-reciprocal pact, the Cotonou Agreement, which allows Africa to trade with the EU without necessarily feeling the pressure to open up its markets in return.
"We are not saying industrial goods would flood African markets on the first day of trade.
We will be entering gradually and African countries would be allowed to control the process," Rouse told journalists at a recent forum.
  The EPA, which has attracted a mixed reaction from African countries, with Nigerian officials calling for their dismissal, offers countries a mixture of good and bad fortune, among them, revenue loss.
Should African countries adopt the EPAs, they would be signing away their sovereign rights to impose taxes on imports and giving away powers to slap punitive taxes on incoming goods and services, effectively implementing full liberalisation and removal of border controls.
"African countries must stop over-reliance on income from customs and import duty because it is not sustainable in the long-run.
We must look at other ways of enhancing trade and making our goods competitive globally," said Kenyan Trade and Industry Minister Mukhisa Kituyi, a leading international trade negotiator.
African negotiators, however representative their positions is when it comes to the needs of the continent, have forgotten about the effects the trade negotiations between the African Caribbean and the Pacific States (ACP) and the EU would have on local consumers.
The continent has been intent on increasing its potential to export to Europe and increase its share of global trade, which is said to stand at only one percent, while most countries struggle to safeguard their market niche in the EU.
The fight for market dominance in Europe has traditionally created acute shortages of commodities as countries and exporting companies strive to get the highest quality products for the European markets where issues of quality are paramount.
Kenya, for instance, faced an acute shortage of domestic sugar from May to July, when the main sugar producer, Mumias Sugar Company, closed down and resorted to producing sugar to meet an 11,000-tonne sugar export deal to the EU.
The East African nation fought for a fraction of the market share in Europe and is allowed to export sugar there under the ACP/EU Sugar Protocol, in which European nations are compelled to buy sugar put on the market by the ACP states at higher prices.
Analysts say countries such as Mauritius export all their locally produced sugar to Europe and import from other countries for local consumption, a move reminiscent of Kenya's low consumption of high quality coffee because the commodity is purely a preserve of exports.
  But despite the harm African consumers face, government officials say negotiating the EPA is crucial for Africa's future survival as countries aim to build export-led economies.
"For a country like Kenya, going by the magnitude of her trade with the EU, where 25 percent of its total exports go, the opportunity cost of the lapse of the current trade regime would be very high," said Kenyan trade negotiator Bernard Kagira.
Kagira, a technical assistant with the Kenya European Union Post-Lome Trade Agreement (KEPLOTRADE), an EU project to train negotiators and boost its negotiating capacity, said Africa was seeking market access and trade on agricultural products.
Africa wants Europe to facilitate its increased production and take steps to ensure goods taken to Europe get accepted.
African products have been constantly shunned due to strict standards set by private players to ensure the protection of European consumers.
  But African consumers are not protected likewise against EU products, some of which were banned ages back, but which still find their way into Africa due to the lack of proper consumer protection standards and weak enforcement agencies.

30 août 2005 19:22:00

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