Boyce Sebetlela, MP for Palapye and Vice President on the Economic Development Finance and Trade Committee of the African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) countries, was this week upbeat that the developing countries “can still benefit” from the rancorous Doha round of talks.
His comments come at a time when world leaders ÔÇô including those from Britain and USA working closely with India ÔÇöare working around the clock after a dead-lock over a number of issues notably the agricultural subsidies at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). But sticky issues involving subsidies and tariffs crop up.
At the same time, European leaders are clamouring for the fast-tracking of Doha talks fearing that developing countries might be permanently marginalized because of the snail’s pace progress regarding the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA’s) that will replace the Cotonou Agreement when it expires at the end of this year. The EU’s plan is to negotiate the EPA according to the regions rather than negotiating with 77 poor countries from Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific in one room.
Among the African countries, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is said to be advanced in talks despite frustrations by officials in Brussels about the seemingly lack of commitment from southern Africa.
“We have done our best in training the negotiators from SADC region but the thing is that they are taking their time in dealing with the real issues. They are taking their time. It is like they do not understand that time is running out,” one EU official involved in the talks has charged.
However, Sebetela said he is confident that negotiating parties representing the various African Caribbean countries have the requisite skills to negotiate good trade deals but said citizens of the ACP countries are not being informed enough about the changes taking place on the global trade scene.
“No matter how good a deal they as ministers can negotiate, back home the locals will not know how they can best exploit it, if an effort is not made by those in the know to ensure information trickles down to them,” he said.
A case in point that the MP noted was that come the end of 2007 the Botswana Meat Commission will no longer enjoy quota free sales to the European Union. According to him, not only the BMC but farmers will also have to now accede to international standards which, if they fail to do, will mean their beef failing to sell.
He said the failure to export Botswana beef will obviously mean a depletion in foreign currency reserves, while at a much lower level farmers will see themselves much more impoverished than they currently are; farmers will have to now have to compete on a global scale with price, quality and responsiveness.
Some farmers have said farmers at a lower level are not benefiting much from the existing EU deal and said they would not miss much. The EU market, they say, has proved to be so demanding that no farmer can satisfy its needs and still make a profit worth mentioning.
At the beginning of June 2007, the G4 group of countries met and could not reach a consensus. The G4 comprises of the US, EU, Brazil and India. The bone of contention which led to the collapse of the G4 summit was that developed economies within the G4 cartel were willing to make concessions such as the reduction of subsidies and import tariffs only if their developing world counterparts ÔÇô Brazil and India, whom they now consider as near equals, could reciprocate.
Sebetlela has one answer for this quandary that Africa finds itself in: Economic Partnership Agreements. According to him, trade negotiations are about give and take and African Caribbean countries should simply analyse with whom the best deals lie.
Sebetela said developing countries such as Botswana must first identify the cards up their sleeve and only then should they attempt to negotiate; in simpler terms Africa should identify its leverage and then negotiate.
In other developments, Africa has proven it might not even be a sincere trade partner to itself. Analyzing the condition of intra African trade, some critics have noted that despite their loud declarations and bold rhetoric African leaders still fail to set up any real structures to enable trade within the embattled continent.