5:18 AM Nov 2, 1994


Geneva 1 Nov (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- African nations will need technical assistance as well as substantive international support measures to take advantage of the opportunities of the WTO trading system as well as meet challenges of higher level of disciplines and adjustment problems, African trade ministers have stressed in an assessment of the Marrakesh agreement and their implications.

The Ministers called for a special technical assistance window in the WTO, as also for programmes and actions in relevant international organizations including UNCTAD, UNDP, World Bank, UNIDO.

The African Trade Ministers had met in Tunis on 27 October and adopted a Framework for Action. The meeting had been preceded by meetings of officials. The ministerial meeting was addressed among others by the UNCTAD Officer-in-charge Carlos Fortin, GATT Deputy Director-General Jesus Seade and a World Bank official, Nicolas Gorjestani.

According to one of the participants at the meeting, Italy's Renato Ruggiero, the European Union's nominee for the WTO's top post was also at the meeting, as a member of the EC Commission delegation, but clearly to gather African support.

In the Framework for Action, the African Ministers said that African countries would have to adapt to the new environment of higher level of multilateral disciplines than before as also to identify and take advantage of the opportunities that the new trading system would offer.

Their import regimes would be subject to greater disciplines while their margins of preference under the Lome Convention and the GSP have been eroded.

To be able to meet the challenges of a higher level of multilateral disciplines, and at the same time derive benefits, the African countries would require urgent technical assistance to address immediate and medium- to long-term adjustment problems.

In this situation, the technical assistance must be accompanied by international support measures -- such as effective debt relief, structural adjustment to facilitate their adaptation to this more competitive situation and financial assistance to strengthen and diversify their production capacity, the Ministers said.

African countries, they added, would need assistance: to identify market opportunities and exploit them through support to selected sectors; export financing facilities; trade promotion and establishment of marketing and distribution networks; conforming to standards and quality control, packaging and labelling; establishing information systems on trade flows and barriers that would be accessible both to government and private sectors along with necessary analytical software.

The Agriculture Agreement would result in higher prices for imports of essential foodstuffs, but could also provide opportunities through reduction of subsidized competition from countries outside the region.

The Marrakesh Ministerial decision on this relating to LDCs and net food-importing countries, they noted, provides for food aid in grant form and financial and technical assistance for improving agricultural productivity and infrastructure, with its implementation to be monitored by the WTO Committee on Agriculture.

"It is essential that these commitments be faithfully implemented," the Ministers added.

The African countries, the Ministers said, would need to make use of the provisions of the Agreements on Subsidies and Countervailing measures as well as the Agreement on Anti-Dumping to protect themselves against unfair trade practices and would also need to apply the Agreement on Safeguards to prevent their domestic industries from injury through rapid increase in imports.

Their own exports, on the other hand, might be confronted with such actions in their export markets.

African countries would need technical assistance to draw up legislation and set up institutions to apply these agreements in the national context, train officials and have information systems on prices and markets.

In the area of TRIPs, they would need to amend their existing legislation and enact new laws to conform to the TRIPs agreement, and establishment and strengthen infrastructures to implement them. They would need financial and technical assistance, including training.

African countries would also need technical assistance and other support in the Services area in order to derive benefits from GATS, strengthen their services sectors and their export capacity, as well as their analytical and policy-making capacity to participate effectively in international negotiations.

The Ministers at Tunis got some differing assessments.

In outlining the 'critical changes' in the external trading environment for Africa after the Marrakesh accords, Fortin said that for Africa there will be a shift from a preferential trade environment to one where the Most-Favoured-Nation principle would prevail and, as a consequence, most African exporters would need to compete on basis of economic factors, such as productivity and quality of production rather than special treatment.

The WTO agreements, he said, would result in a dramatic increase in the stringency and detail of multilateral trade disciplines and their extension into new areas such as intellectual property rights, services (involving commitments on a wide range of policy measures in fields of investment, immigration, communication and transport policies).

Seade, on the other hand, said that while there would be new obligations on African countries, "the true extent and nature for your countries have been grossly overblown by some vocal commentators and need to be put into proper perspective". A number of important flexibilities and longer transition periods for full implementation of the package for Africa had been obtained, the GATT official added.

Fortin said the WTO offered African countries security of access to markets hitherto not available under trade agreements. To respond to these new conditions of market access and continuing pressure to generate foreign exchange, external trade policy must move to the forefront in policy-making machinery, with the private sector being increasingly involved in formulation of external trade policy.

"Although the diversity of African country situations suggest that the Uruguay Round will have an uneven impact at country level, most assessments, nonetheless, generally concur that African countries, particularly the LDCs, will on balance, face difficulties in adapting to the new market access conditions," Fortin told the meeting.

"The narrow concentration of Africa's trade on agricultural, and particularly tropical products, coupled with supply rigidities," he added, "will necessarily limit their capacity, at least in the foreseeable future, to take advantage of the gains of improved access in other categories."