Swazi Observer | 29 July 2008
’Doha Round talks undermining regional integration’
By Teetee Zwane
THE ongoing Doha round of World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks is seen to be undermining regional integration and economic development efforts by African countries, analysts have noted.
Economist Thembinkosi Dlamini from the Coordinating Assembly of Non-Governmental Organisations (CANGO) said the negotiations currently going on in Geneva, Switzerland undermined and compromised the efforts being made by the continent towards regional integration.
Trade ministers started talks at the WTO in Geneva last week to discuss cuts in subsidies and import tariffs with the aim of mapping out a new deal under the so-called Doha round of WTO talks.
However, despite hopes that a consensus would be reached on Friday, after five days of intense discussions, a deadlock between rich and poor countries over a new wave of trade liberalisation could not be resolved.
It was reported that for a number of well-known reasons — the main one being that both the rich and developing countries were not willing to climb down from their entrenched positions — the Doha round talks, culminating in last week’s make-or-break seemed doomed.
In the meantime, developing countries such as Swaziland continue to bear the brunt as economic development and regional integration as well as other trade issues are continually compromised, analysts observed.
UK Trade Minister Gareth Thomas, who was part of a ministerial delegation attending the SA-UK Bilateral Forum meeting recently, was reported to have urged greater emphasis on regional integration to increase intra-Africa trade by, among others, removing barriers to trade and improving trade facilitating infrastructure, customs efficiencies and developing crucial skills.
He said South Africa had a key role in finalising the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations under way between the European Union (EU) and Southern African Customs Union (SACU) plus Mozambique and Angola.
However, Dlamini said it was ’laughable’ to suggest that SA should play a pivotal role in finalising the EPA negotiations considering the fact that country had not even intialled an interim agreement.
He said on the other hand, the interests of SA and the developed world were also almost similar as the neighbouring state was considered an almost developed country itself.
"When it comes to regional integration, you will see that initially we had the SADC bloc which was very close as a unit, but now it has been divided into three blocs for negotiation of the EPAs which require longterm commitments," said Dlamini.
He said before the EPA negotiations, the SADC bloc was closer, but this has been defeated by the division resulting from the negotiations, including division within the Southern African Customs Union (SACU).
He added that this in itself had led to disintegration of some sort within the region seeing as SA had not signed any agreement while countries like Namibia had been pressured to sign under protest.
However, Dlamini said Thomas’ suggestion on the improvement of intra-African trade was a good one as there was greater potential that could be accrued from such.
He said developing countries needed to focus on trade with other developing countries instead of trying to penetrate markets in the developed world.
"We need to shift focus to south-south trade instead of south-north trade. There are downstream benefits to this trade partnership if we can beneficiate our minerals instead of taking these to the developed world for value-add and then buying these back at exorbitant prices," said the economist.
He said such African trade partnerships would also give this part of the world more muscle in terms of international trade negotiations as it a bigger bloc would have been created.
The agricultural issues being discussed at the Doha round are: overall trade-distorting domestic support for developed countries; cotton; top-tier tariff cuts for developed countries; sensitive and special products, which will be shielded from full tariff cuts; and temporary increases in developing-country tariffs to deal with import surges or price slumps, which is called the special safeguard mechanism.
On industrial access, the focus was on the formula and flexibility of industrial tariff cuts; the controversial anti-concentration clause, which would prevent an entire sector from being shielded from cuts; and ’sectorals’ - a clause that increases the tariff reduction burden on countries that do not opt for sectoral tariff elimination, which is the removal of tariffs on certain identified sectors.