The African Trade Network (ATN), attending the Eighth Ministerial Conference (MC8) of the World Trade Organization (WTO), in Geneva, Switzerland has strongly objected to the moves by the developed countries such as United States, European Union, Australia, among others in their joint ministerial press statement issued on the 15th of December 2011 titled “Pledge Against Protectionism” that basically is calling for a standstill clause in the WTO. They are also calling for other developing countries to join their move.

We state that the anti-protectionism messages must be put in context and in the spirit of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA). Protectionism through standards or the use of environmental reasons to block goods and services from developing countries is unacceptable.

However, African countries still need the policy space for industrialization and development purposes (to protect agriculture and local industries through the use of tariffs among others).

The developed countries used the same policy instruments at their nascent stages of development and they are now denying developing countries the usage of the same tools.

Notwithstanding this, the greatest protectionists today are still the developed countries hence it is hypocritical for them to talk against protectionism.

Furthermore, we reject attempts by the developed countries to introduce the standstill clause in the WTO that will shrink the space for Africa countries to use tariffs (both bound and applied) and other trade measures to develop but rather open the markets of African economies.

Developed countries today in addition to their domestic subsidies, have the higher applied agricultural tariffs (18%) than developing countries (15%) on average.

Such a move will restrict the ability of African countries to use trade policy as an important and legitimate tool for industrialization and increased food production.

We urge African governments and delegates to say no to such calls and stand by the Accra declaration on WTO issues by the Africa Union Trade Ministers, which emphasizes the need for a fair and balanced outcome of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), which must prioritise development as the main deliverable.

We also call upon African countries to denounce the un-transparent, secretive and exclusive meetings that are conducted by a few countries on behalf of the rest of the membership of the WTO. In this regard, the so-called “elements of political guidance” (contained in document WT/MIN (11)/W/2) cannot be the basis of discussions at the 8th WTO Ministerial Conference as it has been drafted by about 30 countries out of the 153 members.

We reiterate the importance of maintaining the multilateral approach to the negotiations, where all members have equal opportunities to participate and contribute to the development of a balanced and fair rules based trading system. Current efforts to have the so-called early harvest or plurilateral agreements are killing multilateralism hence development. We urge all African countries to refuse to be part of this plurilateral approach as it may become a template for all future negotiations. Issues that were previously rejected by developing countries are now being brought through the back door in the name of plurilateral agreements e.g. the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA).

Negotiations should remain focused on delivering development especially to poorer countries. This means countries must have the policy space to determine their development.

We also call on citizens in Africa to urge their governments to protect the policy space that Africa needs to develop.

The ATN is a Network of African Civil Society Organisations working on trade and development issues. For more information on the MC8 contact Sylvester (sbagooro@twnafrica.org or call +41786390431), Rangarirai (rmachemedze@seatini.org or call +41766411037)

Tags: