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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Africa: Trade Issues

Africa: Trade Issues
Date distributed (ymd): 990924
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Continent-Wide
Issue Areas: +economy/development+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains excerpts from a press release and the concluding statement from the Africa Trade Network conference in Accra in early September, with statements opposing new issues and calling for review of existing agreements in the World Trade Organization ministerial conference scheduled for the end of November 1999 in Seattle.

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Marking the international civil society day of action
against the new issues in the WTO in Ghana

Excerpt from Press Release

For more information about this and the statement below contact:
Third World Network- Africa
P O Box AN 19452
Accra-North, Ghana
Tel: 233 21 302107/310634/306069/301064
fax: 233 21 311687/231688/773857

A lively and engaging press conference with about 30 representatives of news organisations in Ghana concluded the activities undertaken by four Ghanaian civil society organisations in Ghana to mark the international day of action against the millennium round in the WTO. The press conference, which was later broadcast on the nightly news bulletins of the two main television stations of the country, as well as the wire of the Ghana News Agency, was preceded earlier in the day by discussions and exchanges with trade officials and with Ghana's Minister of Trade and Industry.

These activities were jointly organised by the Third World Network, Africa; the General Agricultural Workers Union of Ghana; the Ghana Chapter of the Association of African Women in Research and Development; and Friends of the Earth-Ghana. All the organisations are members of the Africa Trade Network.

The hour and half-long meeting with the Minister was a thoughtful and rigorous exchange of ideas and information over a wide range of issues and concerns at stake for African and other developing countries at the forthcoming 3rd Ministerial Conference of the WTO. The civil society organisations briefed the minister on the conclusions of the meeting of the Africa Trade Network held in Accra from 31 August - 3rd September.

The Minister welcomed the civil society initiative for the discussions, and agreed with the importance of the issues raised and the positions put forward by the civil society organisations. He also affirmed Ghana's active commitment to the positions taken of the key issues of investment by the African group of countries at the WTO, as well as the group of 77 countries. He underlined the need to address the problems of lack of capacity of African countries to participate meaningfully in the negotiations.

In this context, both sides agreed on the usefulness of continuing these exchanges between the government and civil society organisations. Copies of number of statements, papers and publications were given to the Minister and to the trade officials.

The press conference followed on straight afterwards. In the joint press statement read on their behalf by Yao Graham (Third World Network, Africa), the four organisations who hosted the conference informed the journalists that the international day of action against the World Trade Organisation was important for two reasons.

First, the WTO has become the most powerful international institution, whose rules and decisions determine the economic activities of enterprises, workers, farmers, women, and ordinary people in each of the 134 member countries, and beyond. And yet many ordinary people do not know about these decisions, let alone have a chance to influence them.

Secondly, the day of action was even more urgent in view of the possible dangers posed to African and indeed developing country economies by the forthcoming Ministerial Conference of the WTO. The Ministerial Conference is the highest decision-making body of the World Trade Organisation. For the coming meeting, the advanced industrial countries, notably the USA, the European Union, Canada, and Japan are seeking to grant comprehensive new powers to the WTO over issues which should normally not fall within the ambit of the WTO.

The most critical of these new powers relate to national policies on investment, government procurement, and competition. In each of these areas, the advanced industrial countries areadvancing proposals whose effect will be to prise open developing country markets for the big companies from the West at the expense of local and national enterprise from the developing countries, and of the needs of the people -- workers, farmers, women -- and of the environment.

The statement noted that developing countries, with African countries in the lead in some cases, have opposed this attempt not only because these new powers will prevent developing countries from taking measures which will encourage the growth of development of their own enterprises and local economy.

Developing countries have also opposed the attempt to introduce these new items on to the WTO agenda because it will be at the expense of developing countries who are asking for the WTO to focus first on improving the existing WTO rules and secondly to ensure that the developed countries fulfil their obligations to the developing countries as was agreed in earlier ministerial conferences.

As an instance of the demand by African countries for the WTO to review its existing rules which are harming or stand to harm their economies, the statement cited the proposal put forward by Kenya has on behalf of the African group at the WTO, calling for a review of the agreement on intellectual property to stop the patenting of life, as well as the appropriation of the common knowledge systems of African countries by big pharmaceutical companies from the North.

[the statement below was read]

The statement was followed by over an hour of animated discussion. Most of the journalists who spoke were outraged with the proposals for new issues and were concerned that the government is able to defend the country's interests. They also wanted to know what the government was doing and how. The members of the ATN who hosted the conference reported on their meeting with the Minister of Trade and with the officials earlier in the day.

The discussion recognized out that where the government officials and trade representatives were aware of the dangers posed by the new proposed WTO round and desired to take appropriate action, they still faced immense pressure from the Northern countries who were prepared to use many means including development assistance as blackmail to prevent the developing countries, and especially African, governments from advancing their own interests.

It was important in this regard that the citizens of the country are aware of the issues and active in demanding that their government promote their interests in the negotiations. The meeting agreed that the journalists had a big role to play in this regard. They also agreed for more such organized interactions between civil society organizations and the media to ensure that the interest of African and other developing countries are protected in the Seattle Ministerial Conference and beyond.


Statement of African civil society on
the Third Ministerial Conference of WTO (World Trade Organization)

[Adopted at meeting of African Trade Network, held in Accra, Ghana, September 1999. The African Trade Network was formed in February 1998. The meeting was hosted by the Accra-based Third World Network-Africa secretariat.]

We, the undersigned members of African civil society representing trade unions, social movements, womens groups and other civil society groups, are opposed to any attempt to expand the powers of the WTO [World Trade Organization] through a new comprehensive round of trade liberalisation. Instead, governments should review and rectify the deficiencies of the system and the WTO regime itself, as part of the ongoing processes within the WTO. We therefore, call for a moratorium on new issues or further negotiations that expand the scope and power of the WTO. In this, we join the worldwide campaign of international civil society against the proposed Millennium Round, which could be launched at the Third Ministerial Conference in November 1999, in Seattle, USA.

The Uruguay Round Agreements and the establishment of the WTO were proclaimed as means of enhancing the creation of global wealth and prosperity and promoting the well-being of all people in all member states. In reality however, in the past five years the WTO regime has contributed to the concentration of wealth in the hands of the rich few; increasing poverty and indebtedness for the majority of the world's population; and unsustainable patterns of production and consumption. The Uruguay Round Agreements have functioned principally to prise open markets for the benefit of transnational corporations at the expense of national economies; workers, farmers, women and other groups in the developing world; and the environment. In addition, the WTO system, rules and procedures are undemocratic, untransparent and non-accountable and have operated to marginalise the majority of the world's people.

All this has taken place in the context of increasing global economic instability, the collapse of national economies, increasing inequity both between and within nations and increasing environmental and social degradation, as a result of the acceleration of the process of globalisation. Those governments that dominate the WTO, and that together with the transnational corporations have benefited from the WTO system, have refused to recognise and address these problems. Instead, they are pushing for further liberalisation through the introduction of new issues for adoption in the WTO. This will lead to the exacerbation of the crisis associated with the process of globalisation and the WTO.


We oppose the introduction of the proposed new issues in the WTO, such as investment, competition policy and government procurement. The present Working Groups to study these issues should continue their work, or be closed down. They must not be 'upgraded' into negotiating groups for new agreements. We are also opposed to a new round of industrial tariff reductions.

We commit ourselves to campaign to reject any such proposals. We believe that proposals by EU, Japan and others to negotiate an Investment Agreement are attempts to transfer the utterly discredited MAI from the OECD to the WTO. This should be firmly resisted and rejected. We also believe that government procurement decisions (especially giving preference to local firms) are sovereign rights of our African countries and should not be brought into the WTO. Further, competition policy and law should be domestic issues and not be subjected to WTO disciplines.

On proposals to pressure countries to further cut industrial tariffs, we wish to state that African countries have already drastically reduced their tariffs (especially under structural adjustment programmes) and this has led to closure of local enterprises and de-industralisation. The WTO should not be used to lock in and further reduce industrial tariffs in Africa and the South. We thus reject another round of industrial tariff cuts. Instead the North should cut its tariff peaks in products exported by the South.


We call for a moratorium on new issues and further negotiations that expand the scope and power of the WTO. During the moratorium, there should be a comprehensive and in-depth review and assessment of the impacts of existing agreements. Effective steps must be taken to change the inherent imbalances and inequities of the WTO system and in the existing agreements. We call for particular action in the following areas: 1. SPECIAL AND DIFFERENTIAL RIGHTS

Special and differential rights are principles, which are firmly established within GATT, in order to correct the imbalances of the system, which work against developing countries. There have been increasing pressures since the Uruguay Round to limit the scope and significance of these rights. These rights must be reasserted as existing rights, which are necessary for the fair and equitable operation of the multilateral trading system. They are not 'favours' granted to the developing countries. Developing countries must see these rights as necessary to develop their capacities and to promote the interests of their people within the multilateral trading system. Therefore, we call on developing countries, particularly the African countries, to defend, exercise and expand the scope of these rights, in accordance with their own development needs and aims.


Article 27.3(b) of the TRIPS Agreement should be reformulated to exclude the patenting of life forms; as follows: 'Members must exclude from patentability all living organisms including plants, animals, microorganisms and parts thereof, and any processes making use thereof, and relating thereto'.

In this regard, we support the position as expressed in the African Group paper to the WTO General Council, submitted by Kenya on behalf of the Group. We express full support for the Joint NGO Statement of Support for the Africa Group Proposals on Review of the TRIPS Agreement (Article 27.3(b)). We therefore, call on African political leaders and diplomats in each country to stand firm in their position and to further develop this position with concrete proposals to prohibit the patenting of life forms, and to ensure the protection of traditional knowledge and the rights of local communities over biological resources


In African countries, as in most other developing countries, small women farmers form a major part of the population. Their livelihoods and products (especially food) are the main basis of Third World economies. These are threatened by agriculture liberalisation under the Agriculture Agreement. In developing countries, food production for domestic consumption and the measures and policies for the protection of small farmers should be exempted from the Agriculture Agreement's disciplines on import liberalisation, domestic support and subsidies.


In the review of the TRIMS Agreement, we call for an amendment to allow developing countries the right to have 'local content' policy (i.e., to require firms or projects to use a certain minimum amount of local materials) so as to help development of domestic economic activity and conserve scarce foreign exchange. In addition, developing countries must be allowed to take measures for balancing the flow of foreign exchange. Moreover, no new investment measures should be added to the list in the TRIMS Agreement. Nor should there be expansion of the scope of the TRIMS Agreement to cover investment and competition policy.


For most developing-country members of WTO and for the public and legislatures in all member countries there is lack of transparency and democracy in the WTO system and processes -- its rule making, negotiations, monitoring and dispute-settlement. We urge that the Seattle Ministerial Conference take decisions to make the WTO system more open, transparent, democratic and participatory to developing countries, legislatures and civil society. These include but are not limited, to the following:

  • Consultations, discussion, negotiations and decision-making in WTO have to be truly transparent, open, participatory and democratic.
  • Any proposals on rules or for new agreements should be made known in their draft form to the public at least 6 months before decisions are taken so that civil society in each country can study them and influence their legislatures and governments.
  • All WTO members must be allowed to be present and participate in discussions and negotiations (including in informal groups and meetings where many key decisions are made). The practice of small informal groups making decisions for all Members should be discontinued.
  • Legislatures should be constantly informed of proposals and developments at WTO and have the right to make policy choices regarding proposals in WTO.
  • Civil society should be given genuine opportunities to know about and to express their views, and participate and influence the outcome of policies.

We call on our governments in Africa and other Third World countries to reject the new issues being proposed so that our national sovereignty and development options can be protected, and to demand for a review and reform of the WTO rules and system. We pledge to work with NGOs in other Third World countries in our common struggle on these issues.

We also appeal to our civil society colleagues in the developed countries, on the basis of our common humanity and in the interest of our common planetary home, to join with us in solidarity and campaign against the proposal for new issues, and for the review and reform of the WTO system and agreements.

Signatories include:

TANGO, Gambia; International South Group Network (ISGN), Zimbabwe; ENDA Tiers Monde, Senegal; Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC), S. Africa; Motheho Integrity Consultants, South Africa; Development Innovations & Networks (IRED), Zimbabwe; Inter Press Service, Africa; MWENGO, Zimbabwe; Environmental Rights Action, Nigeria; CCA-ONG, Mali; African Development Education Network (ADEN), Senegal; Organisation of Africa Trade Union Unity (OATUU); Friends of the Earth, Ghana; Association of Africa Women for Research and Development (AAWORD), Ghana; Third World Network (TWN); Integrated Social Development Centre, (ISODEC) Ghana; ActionAid, Gambia; Oxfam; General Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU), Ghana; Africa Trade Network

Those who would like to sign on to it should write to "Africa Trade Network"<>

Distributed by: Motheho Integrity Trade Consultants P.O.Box 3977 Johannesburg, 2000

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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