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Interview: WTO meeting to boost Africa’s agriculture trade: experts

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The upcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) Nairobi meeting would offer African countries a major opportunity to improve the supply chains of agriculture produce and boost its agriculture trade, experts said ahead of the 10th WTO Ministerial Conference to be held next week.

Darlington Mwape, Former Permanent Representative of Zambia to WTO, said in Nairobi that one of the possible deliverables at the meeting, first of its kind in Africa in two decades, is to improve the continent’s competitiveness in export competition of agricultural goods.

Mwape said that over 70 percent of the African labour force is engaged in agriculture, and “a solution to the current challenges facing the agricultural sector will go a long way in reducing poverty in the region.”

“Africa is calling for a reduction or phasing out of export taxes on agricultural products so that international trade in agriculture is fairer,” Mwape told Xinhua in an interview ahead of the the four-day meeting that will start Tuesday.

Mwape, who is also a Senior Fellow at the International Center for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD), a Geneva-based trade think-tank, said that another outcome at meeting would be an agreement that will benefit the four least developed African states that produce cotton.

“They are hoping that WTO talks will phase out export subsidies in cotton so that their local cotton can compete in the international market,” he said while urging African nations to increase their investments in agriculture so as to boost growth in the sector.

“The distorted markets for agriculture produce make it difficult for smaller countries to produce, and the productive capacity of the African countries needs to be fixed,” said Andrew Crosby, ICTSD Managing Director.

Crosby said that the capacity of the African countries to produce agricultural goods for international export could be boosted by support obtained from the WTO’s aid-for-trade initiatives.

He said that at least 250 billion U.S. dollars have been invested in various initiatives to bolster the capacity of the poor countries to trade internationally since 2006.

The trade expert also noted that with African states still need investments to improve the supply chain system — dealing with roads, railway and ensuring efficient markets for agriculture trade — the negotiators at the WTO talks would try to do everything in their power to improve regional trade.

The WTO Ministial Conference takes place every two years. This year’s meeting in Nairobi is expected to discuss a number of negotiating topics included in the Doha Development Agenda, including on agriculture and issues of interest to LDCs.

Crosby said 20 years of a globalized trading system has seen massive changes on the world trade front.

“It is going to be a difficult conference. The global trading system has changed immensely. The trade patterns have changed and the players in the trading system have also changed. It is hard to determine the outcome,” said Crosby.

“For Africa and other countries, there are still positive things in the conference. Personally I expect to see more countries ratify Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA),” he added.

The TFA was concluded at the Bali Ministerial Conference in 2013. According to the WTO, the agreement contains provisions for expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods, including goods in transit. The WTO also believes the agreement has the potential to increase global merchandise exports by up to 1 trillion U.S. dollars a year.

Kenya, the host of this year’s WTO meeting, became the 57th WTO member and sixth African nation to ratify the TFA on Thursday.

 
 
 
       
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