Apr 24, 1991


GENEVA, APRIL 22 (CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN) – The summit meeting of the Organisation of African Unity, to be held in June 1991 in Nigeria, is to be asked to consider key questions facing African countries in the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations.

This is one of the recommendations of the Conference of African Trade Ministers held at Addis Ababa last week (18-22 April) under the auspices of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, and whose conclusions have become available here.

The Ministers expressed concern with the trend of the Uruguay Round negotiations in general and, in particular about what had transpired at the Brussels Ministerial meeting of the TNC in December 1990 "where African countries were not only ignored but also marginalised". The conference decided that the OAU should contact the GATT Director-General "to insist on the need for African countries to be invited to take part in all negotiations" and (complain) that the non-transparent manner in which the negotiations had been held so far "had marginalised Africa’s interests".

"This state of affairs", the Ministers said, "must be reversed in order to achieve balanced and acceptable results" in the Round.

The Ministers also agreed that for the duration of the Round mechanisms should be established for an effective and continuous coordination and exchange of views between policy makers at capitals and Geneva-based negotiators to ensure results which would protect African genuine interests, stipulated in the Punta del Este Declaration.

The Ministers had been seized of the outcome of an African brainstorming meeting, chaired by Tanzanian Industry and Trade Minister C. S. Msuya and held at Arusha, Tanzania (12-13), under the UNCTAD/UNDP technical project for the negotiations.

The Arusha meeting focussed on market access, the new issues (services, TRIMs and TRIPs), and institutional reform, the evolving positions and texts in the negotiating process, and the extent to which remedial action would be necessary to ensure a balanced outcome in the Round from the perspective of African interests.

The participants, according to the conclusions of the meeting, viewed with concern the conduct of the negotiations so far and the profiles of emerging results and noted that despite the very great efforts and sacrifices made by African countries to follow the very complex and intensive negotiations, lack of adequate transparency in the negotiating process had made these efforts less effective than they should have been in defending African interests.

In the market access area, the participants noted with concern the marginalisation of product sectors of interest to them, particularly in Tropical Products and Natural Resource-Based Products (NRBP), as well on the general tariff and non-tariff measures.

The tariff offers on MFN basis implied "no significant improvements" in market access conditions for African countries, and they were "more likely to lose than to gain" in terms of new opportunities as a result of erosion of existing preferences.

The participants underlined the need for compensatory measures to offset these losses and urged adoption of modalities to that end - such as by improved market access on a preferential basis in EC, U.S. and Japan for Tropical and NRBPs and textiles through deeper cuts in tariff rates applicable to Africa and elimination of quantitative restrictions, and establishment of a promotional and investment to improve marketing and distribution as well production and supply capabilities.

In agriculture any Uruguay Round agreement should include exemption of African countries from commitments on internal support, border protection and export competition, give them sufficient freedom to implement programmes to encourage agriculture and rural development and provide compensation to offset any negative effect of the reform process on net food-importing African countries.

On Textiles and Clothing, the participants called for complete elimination of all QRs on African exports from the date the transitional arrangements enters into force, exemption of African exports from transitional safeguard actions and grant of preferential tariff treatment to them.

On TRIMs, the participants said that African countries "would not accept any prohibition of Trims nor any additional obligations over and above those contained in existing GATT Articles III and XI which would imply erosion of the rights contained in Art. XVIII and Part IV of GATT".

In TRIPs, the final agreement should exempt African countries from any higher obligations than in present international conventions on norms and standards for protection of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs), and allow the countries flexibility to adopt measures necessary to alleviate poverty, protect public health and promote public interest in sectors of vital importance to their socio-economic and technological development. These development concerns should be an integral part of the agreement and should not be dealt with through mere time derogation.

"Any agreement in the area of TRIPs on norms and standards", the Arushd meeting added, "should be implemented in the relevant international Organisation such as WIPO".

In services, participants recommended that negotiations of initial commitments should take into account not only the relative strength of their service sectors but also the benefits received in terms of market access from offers by other participants and the means provided towards this end - e.g. transfer of technology and conditions imposed by foreign suppliers.

The final multilateral framework should incorporate the concept of "positive list" (Under which signatories will be committed to liberalisation only of items listed in their schedules), unconditional MFN treatment and universal coverage of sectors and concrete commitments to strengthen the domestic sectors of African countries, as also effective market access for service sectors of export interest to African countries including through movement of personnel.

On the various proposals to convert GATT into a multilateral trade Organisation to administer the results of the Uruguay Round, the Arusha participants agreed that "this should not inhibit, but should be considered part of efforts to establish a development oriented, comprehensive International Trade Organisation within the United Nations".