Sunday, July 10, 2005

[Fair Trade] Fair trade tests G8 goodwill on Africa

10 July 2005

By Brian Love

GLENEAGLES: When the ink dried on G8 pledges to double aid for Africa, what was missing was a commitment to make life viable for cotton farmers and fishermen who are hurt by heavily subsidised US and European rivals.

Economic self-interest took a back seat when Group of Eight leaders signed off on debt relief and an extra $50 billion per year for under-developed regions at the Gleneagles golf resort in Scotland on July 8, half of it for Africa. But the goodwill faded when the eight men were asked to stop government support for exports of farm produce so that needier countries can compete on a more even footing in world markets.

In Geneva, the head of the World Trade Organisation said at the same time that long-running negotiations among close to 150 countries on broad liberalisation of trade in agricultural and manufactured goods and services were in crisis. Aid agencies were quick to point out that more market access and fairer trade was what Africa needed most but was least likely to get any time soon."Despite word games in Gleneagles, in ongoing trade talks in Geneva the US and EU are still pushing to retain subsidies by another name," ActionAid, a non-government development agency, said.


The friction between Europe and the United States was almost palpable after British Prime Minister Tony Blair proposed that G8 countries set a 2010 deadline for halting export subsidies. The proposal was shelved and an official communique said the G8 leaders were instead ready to work towards that goal "by a credible end date". That did not stop big players such as the United States and the Europeans, the big subsidisers along with Japan, competing with offers of an end to farm aid, offers that analysts said were either too conditional or too vague to be meaningful.
US President George W Bush said his country was ready to work with the 25-nation European Union on abolition of farm aid and that this might be doable by 2010.French President Jacques Chirac said the EU had offered as much last year with no response from Washington and that Bush was making pledinside the summit rooms of the Gleneagles hotel.Indeed, Chirac said bluntly that no date would be set unless it was part of a broader package on trade in goods and services among nearly 150 countries involved in the so-called Doha Round of negotiations that are in trouble at WTO headquarters in Geneva.

The next big test of whether the rich G8 countries are serious about satisfying demands for more access to their markets and fairer trade with Africa comes in December in Hong Kong, when ministers will push for completion of the Doha Round free trade deal. For now, there are plenty of other problems to contend with, such as a feud between Europe and the United States over aid to Airbus and Boeing, or threats by US Congressmen to block surging Chinese exports of clothes and textiles.


Helping Africa help itself means striking long-elusive deals on things like trade in cotton. 10 million farmers in West Africa suffer because of US subsidies despite producing cotton for a third of the US price, a recent report highlighted.

Subsidised fishing boats from the EU often catch more fish off African shores than local vessels, while African fish exports to the EU are limited, according to the report by the Commission for Africa, a group advising Blair and G8 leaders.Irish rock star Bono, one of the figureheads of a campaign to rid Africa of poverty, met G8 leaders to congratulate them for raising aid, but also to make the point that fair trade was vital for Africa to fend for itself.
"Everyone wants the fishermen, not the fish," he said.