(NewInternationalist) – Ahead of the World Trade Organization conference that starts in Nairobi today, lobbyists have urged developing countries to pull out of the WTO because it serves only the interests of developed countries.
An alliance of civil-society groups calling itself People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) said that developing countries should not expect solutions on food shortage from the developed world, because rich countries are using the WTO to benefit themselves.
The activists made their position known as the 10th Ministerial Conference of the WTO began in Nairobi. They blamed the WTO for failing to reach a deal on food production in the past because of vested interests on the part of developed countries.
‘Achieving a genuine food security deal will not be possible within the WTO. You can’t expect solutions from a system that breeds the world’s problems,’ the activists said yesterday.
PCFS blamed the US, European Union, Canada and Australia for blocking a long-lasting agreement on public stockholding programmes for food security, which it said could benefit developing countries.
These programmes allow developing countries to provide subsidies for domestic agricultural products as long as they don’t exceed certain levels. Agriculture is a big issue for developing countries, because many of their economies depend on it.
A brief issued by Kenya last week said developing countries expect to argue for a review of agricultural subsidies offered by developed nations to their farmers, which create an unfair trade environment for farmers in poorer nations.
Former Kenya ambassador to the US Elkanah Odembo acknowledged that the global trading system favours rich countries, adding that ‘where there have been opportunities for the countries in the South to take advantage of the trading system, we simply have not been able to do so. The G7, without exception, will continue to subsidize their farmers and agricultural systems. They will continue to do so because it makes local political and economic sense.’
The Nairobi conference is expected to attract more than 5,000 delegates from 163 WTO member states. The Nairobi conference will also see two new members join the WTO – Liberia and Afghanistan.
It will discuss the Doha Development Agenda, agriculture, and market-access services, among other trade issues, with a view to leveraging trade between the least-developed countries and the developed countries.
Kenya’s minister for Foreign Affairs Amina Mohammed was expectant that a successful outcome of the talks should include a work programme that modernizes the WTO negotiating agenda. She said distortions in agricultural trade, caused by high tariffs and other barriers, export subsidies in developed countries, and domestic support have been on the WTO agenda for a long time.
Meanwhile, the Social Movements Working Group Against WTO will hold demonstrations against the WTO. The movements claim WTO agreements are killing small-scale farmers, destroying local innovations and indigenous technologies, and promoting modern economic slavery.
In a statement, the group said that seeking to push issues like trade facilitation will not address the skewed nature of the WTO agreements.
‘They will only serve to facilitate the multinationals to continue dominating the fragile Kenyan market at the expense of local entrepreneurs,’ it said.
The Working Group, which includes Kenyan and international NGOs, charged that the issues Kenya is proposing are more market-driven and not driven by the urge to protect local farmers and consumers. Further, they say that the WTO negotiations are only targeting sectors that are of particular interest to developed countries’ corporations.
However, former Kenyan ambassador to the UN David Kikaya says developing countries should not only focus on subsidies. He says developing countries have previously failed to take advantage of available opportunities such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act, because of misguided economic policies.
‘What we should be asking our trading partners is to help us to add value to our goods so that we can now be able to export them,’ he said in an interview.
Earlier, Kenya’s Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala said he anticipated the event to inject about Sh2.6 billion ($25 million) into the Kenyan economy. The event is a big boost to the country, coming at a time when the Kenyan economy is reeling from the negative effects of terrorism.
The WTO 10th ministerial conference is the first of its kind in Africa. Most analysts and WTO officials agree that the Nairobi talks will largely extend negotiations on the Doha round, rather than achieve consensus on any contentious issues that are likely to bring down trade barriers, which is what many developing countries are advocating for.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta was expected to open the conference today by addressing the ministerial conference. The outcome of the conference will be dubbed the ‘Nairobi Declaration’. Written by