How world agro trade policies affect you

Friday December 22 2017

Kenya Small Scale Farmers Forum secretary

Kenya Small Scale Farmers Forum secretary general Justus Lavi Mwololo during a press conference by the NGOs and trade unions present at the tenth ministerial WTOconference at the KICC. PHOTO|FILE 

Justus Lavi Mwololo is the Secretary-General of Kenya Small-Scale Farmers’ Forum (KESSFF). He spoke to Zahra Moloo, a Canadian journalist and documentary filmmaker on how various global trade policies affect small farmers in the country

What is Kenya Small-Scale Farmers’ Forum (KESSFF)?
KESSFF is a grassroots network of smallholder farmers. It is part of a similar larger regional network in countries in the East, Central and Southern Africa. We bring together small farmers to articulate issues affecting them, including domestic and global policies and market access.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) encourages equal trade opportunity for produce from both developed and less developed countries. What impact does this have on small-scale farmers like those in Kenya?

For the WTO, products from small-scale farmers compete in the market equally with those from developed countries, especially the European Union. Farm produce from the EU, however, receive a lot of subsidy, which makes the produce more competitive. With subsidies, quality becomes higher, production costs are lower and marketing easier. But this is the reverse with products from small-scale farmers, who get no subsidies therefore their products remain uncompetitive.

What about Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). What is their impact on small-scale farmers?
Under EPAs, which are being negotiated between the EU and Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, small-scale farmers are disadvantaged if they try to market their produce in Europe. We are even worried that since some countries have signed EPA, those cheap products of Europe would start flowing into the African market displacing our produce.

How does this occur?
I will give the case of meat and milk from EU, for example Denmark. When it comes to Africa, and specifically Nairobi supermarkets, you find the product is valued added (cooked) and nicely packed in well-labelled tins. And when you compare the price of beef coming from Europe to Nairobi with ours, which you buy from a butchery and it has not been value added, the local one is relatively expensive.

The production cost of beef from the cow in Europe to the butchery and to the packaging has been subsidised by European Union. Ours has no support at all. Farmers have got to pay from their own pockets.

Kenya produces milk. Is this an issue with milk as well?
Yes, once the milk from Denmark for instance starts flowing into Kenya, this will mean our small-scale farmers who are dependent on dairy farming will lose their market. It will mean unemployment, loss of livelihood and loss of government revenue. 

Why are the agreements being negotiated in a way that is not beneficial to African farmers?
These negotiations are a matter of who is stronger. Unfortunately, our negotiators in the ACP countries are not as strong as their counterparts in the EU. The negotiating sessions in Brussels can go on for days; there are so many sessions and every session needs several people. A country in Africa has only two or three negotiators and there are about 20 sessions running. Once those sessions have started, they don’t stop.

Our African lead negotiators sign agreements in which they have not participated in the negotiations.  Then there are a lot of tricks that are used. Like recently, Kenya was arm-twisted into signing the EPA, which is crazy because the Europeans have not been able to get certain preferences in WTO, so what they failed to get in WTO, they are now working to get under EPA.

Like this issue of negotiating for subsidies in the WTO.

The WTO is global and there are many countries like India and China that have been pushing for the withdrawal of farm subsidies. The Europeans found it easier to bring this issue to EPA negotiations because there the majority of the countries are developing and very few are developed. The small countries can easily be twisted.

Why did Kenya sign the EPA and yet Tanzania and Nigeria have rejected?

EPA negotiations are done in blocks. Kenya comes under the East African Community (EAC) block. In EAC, Kenya is supposed to be a developed or developing country. The other four, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda Burundi, are least developed.

In the EPA negotiations, there is a clause known as EBA which stands for ‘Everything But Arms.’ In this clause, the least developed countries are allowed to export everything but arms. Kenya, being a more developed country than the others (and this is a measure given by World Bank), was restricted.

The other twist that was used was this. Kenya exports a lot of flowers and horticultural products to Europe. The negotiations had been going on for a long time and were getting nowhere. Our negotiators were standing strong but then the EU gave Kenya a deadline to sign the EPA, otherwise the Kenyan horticultural produce to Europe would face tariffs. Among those products going to Europe are Kenyan flowers.

The Kenya Flower Council, which is responsible for the export of flowers to Europe, put a lot of pressure on the government.

So Kenya had to sign the EPA, despite the fact that negotiations are done in a block, that is, one country can’t sign alone. EPA is supposed to assist in development and in integration, but they have divided the East African countries. One clause in EPA states “No party should be left worse than they were”. So these are contradictions. They are leaving Kenya and the EAC worse than they were.

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Understanding economic partnership agreement

  • Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) allows duty free access of goods from the East Africa Community to the European market.
    While Kenya has been ready to sign EPA with the European Union, Tanzania and Uganda have been hesitant.
  • Tanzania has been hesitant to sign the deal claiming it would kill local industries.
  • However, both Uganda and Tanzania are listed as Least Developed Countries, exempting them from paying duty to access European markets.
  • Kenya is not classified as a least developed country, hence its only chance of accessing EU markets duty free is through a collective EPA signed by the region.