Magazine article International Trade Forum

African Businesses Raise Their Voices: African Countries Stand to Gain from Completing the Current Round of WTO Negotiations. ITC Is Helping Developing Countries Re-Engage in World Trade Talks through a Series of Regional Workshops That Bring Business and Government Together to Assess Their Gains and Sharpen Negotiating Strategies

Magazine article International Trade Forum

African Businesses Raise Their Voices: African Countries Stand to Gain from Completing the Current Round of WTO Negotiations. ITC Is Helping Developing Countries Re-Engage in World Trade Talks through a Series of Regional Workshops That Bring Business and Government Together to Assess Their Gains and Sharpen Negotiating Strategies

Article excerpt

Business in developing countries is advocating strongly for a return to the negotiating table, but it is an often-neglected voice in trade talks. ITC's Business for Development workshops help business leaders make their case with government negotiators and contribute to more targeted national negotiating positions. The series got off to a successful start in Nairobi (30-31 March), where participants from eastern and southern Africa discussed their expectations from the Doha Development Round of global trade talks, due to be completed by January 2005.

Defending Africa's interests

In Nairobi, business and government representatives from 12 countries --Botswana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe--exchanged views.

"Africa, if it wants its interests to be taken on board at the WTO, has no choice but to remain engaged in the negotiations," declared Mukhisa Kituyi, Kenya's Minister of Trade and Industry.

"But we must be equipped with the necessary information in order to be effective. Governments negotiate for their businesses. Governments do not know everything. Therefore they have to form a strong partnership with business in order to be effective ... Businesses are part and parcel of the negotiations."

ITC's Executive Director, J. Denis Belisle, told the opening session that the goat of the meeting was "to help business people and governments come together in a strong public-private sector team to defend the interests of Africa in the trade negotiations being resumed in Geneva".

Also attending the meeting were Kenya's Minister of Planning and National Development, Peter Anyang' Nyong'e, and the Charge d'Affaires of the United States embassy in Nairobi, Leslie Rowe. Participants from the region's private sector included heads of chambers of commerce, leading exporters, commodity producers and consumer protection advocates. Participants heard presentations from African and ITC experts on the current state of the negotiations in Geneva on agriculture and market access for industrial products, and on the future of the textiles trade.

Ms Rowe reasserted the US's commitment to the multilateral trading system and its willingness to reduce and eventually eliminate support to agriculture. "The challenge for each [WTO] member state is to take hard decisions about what concessions you are willing and able to make in order to make gains on other fronts. The business community's contributions to the formulation of a national negotiating agenda are vitally important to the success of the multilateral trade discussions," she added.

Business must speak out

"Successful negotiations for the Doha Development Agenda [Round] depend, to a large degree, on the quality of collaboration between national trade negotiators and business leaders," said Mr. Belisle. The problem is that often the two sides do not talk to each other.

He also commented that business in developing countries, particularly those where it was only beginning to build confidence in its capacities, must make its voice heard in government circles before talks start moving towards agreement. "It is no good waiting till the negotiators come home and then complaining that they failed to get the agreements the private sector needed," he said.

Ramamurti Badrinath, ITC's Director of Trade Support Services, in promoting the concept of "business advocacy", said that the private sector in most developing countries--after years of keeping aloof from trade talks in the belief that they were best left to government negotiators--is now clamouring to be consulted, just as their counterparts in the North are regularly consulted by their governments.

Peter Naray, ITC's Senior Adviser on the Multilateral Trading System, pointed out that he and his colleagues had ample evidence that African businesses were dismayed at the hiatus in talks in Cancun and wanted a meaningful return to the negotiating table as soon as possible. …

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