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01.05.2000 Feature Article

Ghana Still Sleeping! WTO Should Be The Focus

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The new ruling government of Ghana under the leadership of John Agyekum Kuffour put up a very good performance at the WTO trade policy revith Doha, or WTO ministerial taking place in Doha, Qatar in November, Ghana had still not presented any proposals till date. There are issues on market access for banana export to Europe, tariff barriers for cocoa and coffee production and a lot more. We have seen Swaziland, Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa making great proposals on market access, implementation and issues they think are pertinent to their economic survival. The focus now is shifting from developing countries to least developing countries, LDCs which Ghana is not a member. The EU's EBA proposal (everything but arms) gives market access to LDCs and Ghana will have to fight for space with more cheaper goods coming from the LDCs. Swaziland knowing the effect of the market access for LDCs and they not being a member have sent in proposal stating their case. Speaking at the conference in Egypt Mike Matsebula, chief executive of the Swaziland Sugar Association, said that, "market access will be given priority over reductions in export subsidies and cuts in domestic support". Matsebula further said rich countries have indicated they would give special and preferential treatment to poor countries, but details still have to be negotiated. Matsebula expressed disappointment with a recent proposal by the EU trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy to give the poorest sugar exporters free access to the EU market by 2008 under the so-called Everything But Arms proposal. "They are taking it from the poor and giving it to the poorest. The EU doesn't share the burden," Matsebula said, referring to the fact that African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) sugar exporters would lose trade preferences renewed by the EU in the trade pact signed in Cotonou, Benin last year. (CREDIT TO BRIDGES WEEKLY OF ICTSD, GENEVA.). There is a big problem facing not only Ghana but also developing countries as a whole and its nothing other than their capacity to negotiate, their staff presence in Geneva. Am well informed that the minister was made aware of the fact that the trade staffs needs to be upgraded and increased. Ghana has just one man working at the trade section and at the WTO. Ghana's presence at the AFRICAN GROUP meetings at the WTO can be counted, as investigation pointed to the fact that Ghana's trade Rep is too busy working alone to be present. Can one person attend over 50 meetings a week at the WTO? Should he prioritise the meetings? Which is not important? A study by the African economic research consortium, found out that Africa's participation in the Uruguay Round process was very marginal. This was because we lacked capacity to engage substantively on the wider range of issues on the agenda. African countries were overwhelmed by the complexity of the negotiations and lacked negotiating experience and expertise in economic policy analysis, and in international trade law. A case in point was their in ability to seek credit during negotiations for measures already undertaken under Structural Adjustment programmes that included trade reforms. According to the report, African countries had chosen to bind tariffs even though under Uruguay round rules they would have received negotiating credit for having done so as some Latin American countries did.
Following the Marrakech Agreement, African countries have sought ways to be integrated effectively into the global trading system and to improve their participation in multilateral trade negotiations under the WTO. A lot of African countries have made significant efforts, with the assistance of international organisations such as UNCTAD, ECA, UNDP, OAU (now AFRICAN UNION) and lately ICTSD and some countries like South Africa. Through a series of seminars, meetings, conferences and through the Geneva African Group, issues are examined more comprehensively than in the run -up to previous WTO ministerial conferences. Ghana should have learnt from these reports and addressed these issues and contributed to the debate to make Doha a "development round" Ghana needs to take the WTO seriously. Full fledged integration of Ghana into the global trading system will require the building of the requisite capacity that will enable her to contribute to shaping and designing the rules and regulations for its management by maintaining continues presence at the trade negotiations in Geneva, enhance the capacity of policy makers based in Accra to support and guide their negotiators, and ensuring systematic preparations in advance of WTO meetings and Negotiations. A civil servant from Ghana's trade and industry ministry represents the country at WTO meetings. One other problem the Ghana should take into consideration is where and who is posted to the missions. Most of the staff at the Mission are from the ministry of foreign affairs rather than trade and industry. Then problem here is the staff is people who have little or nothing to do with WTO matters when they are back home. This means not only that they know nothing about the WTO work when they arrive (if its their first tour of duty in Geneva), but that the WTO experience they gain while in Geneva is very likely not to be used when they return home. Any meaning effort to improve Ghana's participation in the WTO would have to deal with this problem. We should take note that participation is not only the presence of delegates and time spent in meetings. More important, it requires a capacity to understand and analyse issues, with the objective of making concrete conclusions in the form of proposals and papers, particularly in the context of constraints on time and resources. Ghana should make frantic efforts to come out of the doldrums if it wants to make any headway in the Doha ministerial and not make it another tea party. The combination of a large and highly skilled professional home based support staff and a few Geneva based negotiators could deliver the necessary level of participation but the extent odf substitution between these staff is obviously limited by the fact that only Geneva- based staff can maintain the country's presence in the daily consultations and meetings that are so critical to the WTO process. Ghan should get its diffused nature of trade policy making process in order and build the lack of co ordination amongst the institutions involved in the articulation and implementation process. As the expanding mandate of the WTO draws more institutions into the process of articulation and implementating trade and trade related policies, co ordination within and amongst ministeries and other governmental agencies pose a great problem for Ghana. In my next issue I will propose very pragmatic suggestion and solutions on how Ghana can make a headway and be counted amongst the elite. It's not enough to be called a WTO founding member, if you cannot live up to your billing.

Kwadwo Frempong
Kwadwo Frempong, © 2000

The author has 6 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: KwadwoFrempong

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