Mr K. B. Asante, a retired diplomat and renowned columnist, yesterday called on African leaders to attend the forthcoming meeting of the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XII) in Accra with a mindset that UNCTAD is for trade and not aid as a means for development.
He noted that African countries had since the inception of UNCTAD in 1964 not taken full advantage of the opportunities it offered because they did not fully comprehend its purpose as an institution meant to promote trade rather than aid as a means for the development of Less Developed Countries (LDCs).
Mr Asante made the remark at a forum organised by IMANI, a Ghanaian-based international trade policy think-tank, to discuss how Africa could benefit from the forthcoming UNCTAD XII conference slated for April 20-25, 2008 in Accra.
'UNCTAD is for trade not aid,' he said. 'UNCTAD was established to assist LDCs who could not compete effectively on the terms of World Trade Organisation (WTO) to also participate in world trade on more flexible terms.'
He noted that whereas UNCTAD existed to create an opportunity such as low tariff on exports, among others, to enable developing countries to participate effectively in world trade, most African states subscribed to it with expectation of receiving aid instead of participating in trade.
'Over the years, countries like India and China, for instance, which were rated as developing countries took advantage of UNCTAD and inundated western markets with their textile products, while Ghana's Akosombo textiles for instance went rotten,' he said.
Mr Asante, who was President of the UNCTAD Board in 1968-69, suggested that in coming to the UNCTAD conference, African leaders should understand that people were in trade to make money and not as charities and therefore, 'we must come, thinking of how we can also make money by trading and not by begging for aid.'
He observed that the talk about new partnerships as a means of boosting Africa's advantage in the international market place had been overplayed, saying that, several partnerships already existed within the continent based on various regional and sub-regional protocols and there was therefore no need to establish new partnerships to access UNCTAD opportunities.
'In our confused state, we have watched foreign investors in Africa ship their profits out and even our own local investors invest more overseas than on the continent because our leaders have not demonstrated a clear understanding of what it is that we can get from UNCTAD,' he said.
Mr Asante observed that aid had the tendency of diverting attention of the recipient country from its own development agenda and thereby leaving its economy at the mercy of the donor.
He therefore urged African leaders to quickly shift their attention from the jamboree of hosting the UNCTAD conference and focus on the core purpose of trade during the conference or else the continent would lose out.
Mr Franklin Cudjoe, Executive Director of IMANI, who moderated the forum, noted that 60 per cent of the African productive force invested their money outside Africa because the investment atmosphere on the continent was still not promising.
He said at 5.6 per cent GDP growth rate, Africa fell short of the seven per cent growth rate required to bring the continent to a middle income level by the year 2015, adding that, the challenge of brain drain also hampered the development of the continent.