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Africa Eager to Increase Its Share of World Trade

Published date:
Wednesday, 08 June 2005

African Union trade ministers meeting in Cairo June 8-9 are eager to increase Africa's share of the growing world market, according to Deputy U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Peter F. Allgeier, who met with the ministers June 8.

"All of us are committed to using the Doha negotiations to help reverse the trend that has occurred in Africa of a declining share of world trade," Allgeier said from Cairo during a June 8 telephone press conference with reporters in Washington.

"We think that the Doha negotiations can help to reverse that and allow [African countries] to take advantage of the great expansion in trade that has occurred over the last decade and that we expect to continue, and to be a leading factor in countries' economic growth, as it has been over the last decade for the United States and for the world generally," Allgeier said.

Allgeier and USTR senior trade negotiator Dorothy Dwoskin were invited to attend the meeting along with European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson by Egyptian Minister of Foreign Trade and Industry Rashid Mohamed Rashid, who hosted the African Union trade ministers.

They participated in a discussion on the Doha Development Agenda, "which we were very, very happy to do, to meet with African ministers and to exchange views on how to move the negotiations forward and make them a success for all of the parties," Allgeier said.

The Doha trade talks are the result of a November 2001 declaration of the World Trade Organization's (WTO's) Fourth Ministerial Conference in Doha, Qatar, that mandated negotiations on a range of trade issues.

All of the African Union countries were represented at the Cairo meeting, Allgeier said, either at the ministerial level or at a very high official level. "We had a very good discussion," he said, "and I think that this is helpful to us as we go back to Geneva for the negotiations."

The U.S. officials also had bilateral meetings with ministers from Egypt, Rwanda, Kenya, and South Africa, as well as Zambia, which is the chair of the 50 least-developed countries of the WTO for 2005, and Senegal, which will host the AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) Forum in July.

When asked if the ministers discussed preferences, Allgeier responded: "We didn't get into details. They're concerned about it. But, I think, as Minister [Mukhisa] Kituyi of Kenya expressed it, we need to find 'a soft landing' for some of these areas of concern about preference erosion, which I think is very positive, because a soft landing, to me, suggests that it's part of a liberalization, and that's what these negotiations are all about.

"So it sounds, at least from his perspective, [as though] he's talking more about transition than opposition to liberalization."

Asked about possible concern among the Africans that textile and apparel production is moving increasingly to Asia -- and if there was any talk about shoring up those industries in Africa -- Allgeier said: "That's where AGOA really comes in [for] these countries, because that gives them the tariff preference that Chinese and other Asians don't have. But clearly there is a lot of concern here that even with that tariff preference, it's difficult to compete with some of the low-cost producers in Asia."

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