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World Trade meeting merely reinforced biases

Friday December 18 2015

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As the curtain falls on the World Trade Organisation’s conference in Nairobi this week, questions abound as to its achievements and benefits to Africa and other developing nations.

The 10th Ministerial Conference, otherwise known as MC10, was billed to signal a trade breakthrough for developing nations, given that it was strategically hosted in Nairobi, but the deliberations have barely pointed in that direction.

One of the key items on the agenda was the signing of the trade facilitation agreement that would allow Africa and other developing nations to access markets in Europe and the United States.

On paper, this would be a boost to the developing world, but, in reality, it is not. Most exports from Africa are largely agricultural and raw.

They hardly fetch good prices on the international market.

At any rate, agricultural subsidies in the West mean products from Africa have little chance to compete in those markets. Not surprisingly, the West has resisted attempts to eliminate subsidies because they give their farmers a competitive advantage.


More substantively, the conference re-ignited old rivalries between the global North and South. For one, the US and the European Union introduced what they packaged as “new issues”, which essentially sought to insulate their multinationals from national trade regulations and policies, and hence pry open Africa’s market to the detriment of local firms.

The net result is that multinationals will dominate Africa’s markets and repatriate profits to their home countries, killing indigenous entrepreneurship.

Collectively, the meeting has not achieved much. A number of issues on the cards were not concluded. On the contrary, it continued to reinforce trade rivalries and imbalances.

Africa and other developing nations must rethink trade agreements. The existing imbalances and structures are difficult to dismantle and will continue to entrench domination by the developed world.