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AFRICA: Aid For Trade Could Help Producers in Poor Countries

Sarah McGregor

DAR ES SALAAM, Oct 2 2007 (IPS) - Agricultural exporters in poor nations need funds and technical assistance to comply with food safety norms in order to boost their share of world trade, according to World Trade Organization (WTO) representatives.

WTO Director General Pascal Lamy said giving higher priority to the safety standards of exports could prepare the poorest nations to benefit more from the Doha development round.

He was among the delegates at the ‘‘Mobilising Aid For Trade – Focus on Africa’’ high-level conference which started yesterday in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. It is hosted by the WTO, the World Bank, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the African Development Bank.

The Doha round of global trade talks started in 2001 under the auspices of the WTO and is meant to liberalize world trade in a way that will boost development in poor countries.

The negotiations have been teetering on total breakdown due to the US and the EU’s recalcitrance in scrapping the hefty subsidies being paid to their farmers. These subsidies result in overproduction and suppressed prices against which producers from the South cannot compete.

Lamy was hopeful at the conference that the negotiators were moving closer to an agreement. The main areas of debate-cutting US farm subsidies, reducing agricultural tariffs in European nations and opening up poor countries’ markets-may be resolved by the end of 2007, he said.

If that milestone is reached, it would be possible for the final deal to be concluded before the end of 2008, he said.

Regarding Aid for Trade, Lamy said it is a complement and not a substitute for new, fairer trade rules. He added that trade-related aid should not divert resources or attention from poverty reduction programmes.

Michael Roberts, secretary of the WTO&#39s standards and trade development facility, pointed out that aid is required to train farmers on safe pesticide use and disease control to prevent the potential spread of foot and mouth disease or avian flu.

‘‘If one country fails (to adhere to food safety norms), it might endanger the entire planet,’’ Roberts said.

Funds are also needed to help poor nations meet the demand from retailers for documented proof that food, animal and plant imports pose no health risk to consumers, he said.

Supermarkets are under pressure from customers to stock their shelves with food that has been imported on the basis of fair trade practices and can be certified as organic and free of genetic modification. Customers want to see labels that show the country of origin.

Increasingly, outlets are carrying products that calculate the carbon footprint: the amount of greenhouse gases emissions created while transporting the goods from the ‘‘field’’ to the grocery cart.

The WTO is asking rich nations to pledge 25 million dollars over the next five years to replenish the funds of the WTO’s standards and trade development facility, which since 2002 has launched initiatives to help poor nations get familiar with food safety requirements.

The funding call is more than double the 10 million dollars spent over the previous five-year period, but still just a fraction of global official development assistance totalling 25 to 30 billion dollars annually.

‘‘For a very small amount of money you can get a very big return,’’ WTO spokesperson Keith Rockwell told IPS.

‘‘Twenty million dollars for a new road might make some people hesitate. But small projects, such as 200,000 dollars in technical assistance, can really start transforming an economy.’’

For instance, mango exports in Mali have risen 30 percent a year since 2000 as the west African nation improved its agriculture safety procedures and began keeping the fruit in cold storage, according to Rockwell.

Similar success stories were also recorded in Madagascar, an island nation in southern Africa, which has streamlined litchi fruit production and Benin, in west Africa, where fishermen were taught to safely handle fish, Rockwell argued.

In Tanzania, the challenge is to bring the majority of small-scale producers using outmoded farming techniques into the supply chain, according to Mike Chambers, secretary general of the Tanzania Horticulture Association. The association represents the flower industry which is worth 40 million dollars a year.

The overwhelming majority of the east African nation&#39s 38 million people depend on agriculture to feed themselves or earn a living. ‘‘Small growers cannot on their own become compliant in terms of the European market,’’ said Chambers.

Africa is home to about 13 percent of the world’s population but just three percent of trade. The continent has seen economic growth averaging about 5 percent over the past three years, mainly driven by surging commodities prices and demand for oil.

The term Aid for Trade describes aid from rich states that is meant to improve the ability of poor nations to sell their goods abroad. For example, the aid could be spent on building infrastructure such as roads and ports or to cut red tape that causes delays at customs.

The conference ends today.

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