03.05.2005 General News

Civil society groups call for fair trade policies

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Accra, May 3, GNA - Civil society organizations say the effects of current trade negotiations on the Common External Tariff (CET) for ECOWAS and the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union are detrimental to the agricultural sector in West Africa and the Continent as a whole.

They contend that the North should stop its double standards in trade negotiations and allow fair trade instead of free trade so that African countries would also enjoy the gains to be made from trade. The EU, they said, should stop the EPAs with African countries in their current form, because it would further lead to the deterioration of African economies and "lock them into raw material and mineral production and extreme poverty".

This was brought to the fore at a news conference organised in Accra on Wednesday by some civil society organisations in Ghana, including the Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC), Action Aid, Market Access Promotion Centre (MAPRONET), Peasant Farmers Association, OXFAM, Centre for Public Interest Law (CEPIL), Ghana Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) and the Abibimman Foundation.

The aim was to appeal to the African Heads of State and their Agriculture Ministers, who would be attending the G8/NEPAD Summit from May 5 to May 6 in Accra for the launch of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and ECOWAS Common Agriculture Policy (ECOWAP), to address pertinent issues in the proposed programmes that could affect the Continent's development.

Mr Ibrahim Akalbila, a Trade Officer at ISODEC, noted that in adopting the ECOWAP; ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) had recognised the leading role of agriculture in the Sub-Region's economy and the dominant position of women in agriculture in reducing poverty and enhancing food security.

He said as a way of compensating for distortions in the world market, the ECOWAP states that unilateral protective action at a regional level was justified where vulnerable populations may be injured.

"This indeed is a positive stand and should be made to reflect in the contents of the CAADP."

The common agriculture policy is aimed at ensuring sustainable food security, judicious management of the Sub-Region's vast natural resources and decent reward for those engaged in agriculture, the backbone of West Africa's economy.

The policy would also promote sustainable expansion in trade in agricultural products within and outside the Sub-Region and further be deployed as a tool for poverty alleviation and employment. ECOWAP was designed to improve the living conditions of the people, especially the rural populations, sustenance of the industrialisation process through availability of quality raw materials and resuscitation of the peasant farm family alongside mechanised farms.

Mr Akalbila said the current negotiations the Sub-Region was engaged about the CET and the EPA threatened the livelihood of small-scale farmers in West Africa.

He contended that extending the CET to ECOWAS, as proposed and adopted by the ECOWAS Heads of State, was likely to further undermine the agricultural sector, that had already suffered from surges in imported highly subsidised and cheap agricultural produce. Mr Akalbila said the proposed CET of 20 per cent on imported agricultural produce was too low and provided too little space for policy flexibility to protect sensitive sectors like poultry and rice.

"It thus has detrimental effects on agricultural development in the Sub-Region, particularly developing agro-based industries, given that there are stark differences in the economies of individual countries," he noted.

Mr Akalbila said the EPAs currently being negotiated between West Africa and the EU, built on reciprocity and envisaging the abolition of all tariffs for at least 90 per cent of all imports in ECOWAS from the EU, would have a de-industrialisation effect and constituted a severe threat to small to medium scale farmers in the Seb-Region.

He noted that the immediate effect of these negotiations would be the decline in incomes of about the 50 per cent to 60 per cent of people employed in the sector, thus dwarfing the poverty reduction efforts of the Sub-Region.

Citing an example, he said that in Ghana, the poultry and rice sectors had suffered from imports of subsidized products from the EU and the US markets, respectively.

Mr Akalbila said, even though, civil society organisations acknowledged the CAADP as cardinal to agriculture in Africa, the provision had not provided enough and appropriate safeguard measures such as some level of tariffs to protect agriculture from cheap imports and to make it competitive.

"We believe the ECOWAP has provided this under the trade regime implementation within the Community, where it provides for differential protection for agric products. We thus call on NEPAD to incorporate this into the CAADP."

He stressed that the involvement of the IMF and World bank in the implementation of the CAADP must be secured so that these institutions did not impose conditionalities that would be detrimental to Africa's development effort, given their past records.

He said that NEPAD should be at the forefront to advocate for fair trade instead of free trade. It should also fight for the removal of all forms of agricultural subsidies of developed nations, halt forced liberalization and stop the EPAs in their current form because they slowed down the rate of economic growth in Africa.

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