July 10, 2005

Fair trade tests G8 goodwill on Africa

By Brian Love

GLENEAGLES, Scotland (Reuters) - When the ink dried on G8
pledges to double aid for Africa, what was missing was a
commitment to make life viable for cotton farmers and fishermen
who are hurt by heavily subsidized U.S. and European rivals.

Economic self-interest took a back seat when Group of Eight
leaders signed off on debt relief and an extra $50 billion per
year for under-developed regions at the Gleneagles golf resort
in Scotland on July 8, half of it for Africa.

But the goodwill faded when the eight men were asked to
stop government support for exports of farm produce so that
needier countries can compete on a more even footing in world

In Geneva, the head of the World Trade Organization said at
the same time that long-running negotiations among close to 150
countries on broad liberalization of trade in agricultural and
manufactured goods and services were in crisis.

Aid agencies were quick to point out that more market
access and fairer trade was what Africa needed most but was
least likely to get any time soon.

"Despite word games in Gleneagles, in ongoing trade talks
in Geneva the US and EU are still pushing to retain subsidies
by another name," ActionAid, a non-government development
agency, said.


The friction between Europe and the United States was
almost palpable after British Prime Minister Tony Blair
proposed that G8 countries set a 2010 deadline for halting
export subsidies.

The proposal was shelved and an official communiqu© said
the G8 leaders were instead ready to work toward that goal "by
a credible end date."

That did not stop big players such as the United States and
the Europeans, the big subsidizers along with Japan, competing
with offers of an end to farm aid, offers that analysts said
were either too conditional or too vague to be meaningful.

President Bush said his country was ready to work with the
25-nation European Union on abolition of farm aid and that this
might be doable by 2010.

French President Jacques Chirac said the EU had offered as
much last year with no response from Washington and that Bush
was making pledges to the media that he had not even aired
inside the summit rooms of the Gleneagles hotel.

Indeed, Chirac said bluntly that no date would be set
unless it was part of a broader package on trade in goods and
services among nearly 150 countries involved in the so-called
Doha Round of negotiations that are in trouble at WTO
headquarters in Geneva.

The next big test of whether the rich G8 countries are
serious about satisfying demands for more access to their
markets and fairer trade with Africa comes in December in Hong
Kong, when ministers will push for completion of the Doha Round
free trade deal.

For now, there are plenty of other problems to contend
with, such as a feud between Europe and the United States over
aid to Airbus and Boeing, or threats by U.S. Congressmen to
block surging Chinese exports of clothes and textiles.


Helping Africa help itself means striking long-elusive
deals on things like trade in cotton. 10 million farmers in
West Africa suffer because of U.S. subsidies despite producing
cotton for a third of the U.S. price, a recent report

Subsidized fishing boats from the EU often catch more fish
off African shores than local vessels, while African fish
exports to the EU are limited, according to the report by the
Commission for Africa, a group advising Blair and G8 leaders.

Irish rock star Bono, one of the figureheads of a campaign
to rid Africa of poverty, met G8 leaders to congratulate them
for raising aid, but also to make the point that fair trade was
vital for Africa to fend for itself.

"Everyone wants the fishermen, not the fish," he said.