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"Africa deserves a bigger voice in WTO's decision-making process, given that the continent is currently being asked to undertake substantial liberalisation of its trade practices."
African nations are demanding major changes within the World Trade Organisation (WTO) secretariat to ensure full and active participation of all member countries.
Delegates attending the first Africa specific trade congress in Nairobi last week complained that poor representation of the continent in the world trade body had hindered its integration into the international system.
The one-week trade congress was organised by the Commonwealth Business Council (CBC).
Out of the 41 African countries that are WTO members, only 26 have a resident mission in Geneva, and only 19 out of the 53 permanent staff members at the WTO secretariat are African.
According to Kenya's permanent secretary for the ministry of Tourism, Trade and industry, Margaret Mengich, who spearheaded the call for critical reforms, Africa deserves a bigger voice in WTO's decision-making process, given that the continent is currently being asked to undertake substantial liberalisation of its trade practices.
Mengich warned that it is only through enhanced participation of Africa in the WTO that its trade negotiations can be more reflective of the interests and concerns of the African people.
Other problems are lack of effective co-ordination and involvement of the stakeholders and weak industrial and technological bases-hence inability to take advantage of opportunities.
Others are lack of human skills and institutional capacity and poor financial resources to meet various challenges.
Africa is believed to be the weakest partner in the current international interdependence due to the enormity of the tasks at hand.
Although WTO member states account for 90 percent of world trade and 30 percent of the members come from Africa, The continent's gains in the global economy have been minimal.
The congress brought together some 200 business and government leaders from 26 countries throughout Africa and from Europe, Canada, India and Bangladesh to debate the issues affecting Africa and the WTO.
The congress acknowledged that globalisation was an ongoing process the benefits of which must be shared equally.
They expressed the view that the main trading blocks have strengthened their own positions at the expense of the developing world.
They warned that if Africa does not take its rightful seat at the negotiating table it would be increasingly marginalised and unable to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
Kenya's tourism, trade and industry minister, Mr. Nicholas Biwott said that Africa has to re-position itself into the mainstream of international economic system.
He said the continent has to continue with the economic and trade reforms in order to benefit from the forces of globalisation and technological advances.
He said Africa needed to upgrade its negotiating skills, research, financial and human resource capacity so as to participate effectively in WTO talks.
Mr. Biwott urged Africans to identify issues of common interest, which should impact on the content's performance in international trade so that it can jointly articulate them at every negotiating opportunity.
Even the WTO admitted that sub-saharan Africa fared badly in the Uruguay Round but attributed it to the failure by countries in the region to clearly identify and articulate their interests and concerns.
Speaking to the gathering on the challenges for Africa and Kenya, a Kenyan industrialist, Dr. Manu Chandaria, said while the majority of African countries talk of boosting inter-Africa trade, they "keep on buying goods from outside Africa when it is quite possible to be our own suppliers for quite a number of our requirements."
Dr. Chandaria said Africa's failure has always been in implementation.
"We have talked about this over and over again, but when it comes to implementation, we have failed miserably," he said.
Africa has to produce quality goods and services, said Dr. Chandaria, if it wants to become competitive on the world stage.
"In Africa we have created institutions like the East African Community, COMESA, SADC and IGAD but still we cannot break down the barriers," he observed.
Copyright © 2001 Panafrican News Agency. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).
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