It is high time African countries embarked on special safeguard measures (SSMs) to protect the continent’s agriculture sector, François Kanimba, the Minister for Trade, Industry and East African Community Affairs, said Monday.
Put in place by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that regulates international trade, the SSM is a protection measure allowed for developing countries to take contingency restrictions against agricultural imports that hurt domestic farmers.
Kanimba made the call at the opening of a week-long regional advanced trade negotiation simulation skills course for 32 English speaking African countries, in Kigali, at which participants discuss the impact of mega-regional deals on WTO processes.
Kanimba said the agriculture sector, being the backbone of the continent, African countries should have placed it at the centre of negotiations.
Kanimba said agriculture distorting subsidies are still unaddressed and “expose our small-scale farmers to unfair competition” from subsidised imports from rich countries.
Rich countries spend billions of dollars subsidising their farmers, leading to chronic overproduction and dumping surpluses on global markets, a trade practice that reportedly impoverishes farmers in most African countries.
Regarding market access, Kanimba said, while most African countries enjoy duty-free quota, technical barriers to trade are being imposed by partners to products when trying to export to their markets.
African countries, he said, need to continue advocating for elimination of harmful subsidies in order to achieve promised reforms in the agriculture sector and push for defence measures and easy access to markets for their products.
Many African countries, including Rwanda, he said, have recently faced cheap imports of rice from some Asian countries.
“It is, therefore, important to reemphasise that public stockholdings for the purpose of food security are important but there is a need for fair disciplines to ensure that they are not used for exports which may result in dumping in other markets.”
Dickson Yeboah, head of intensive trade negotiations skills unit at the WTO institute for training and technical cooperation, said there is need for effective global rules on issues that matter to both developing and developed countries.
Yeboah said free trade could serve as the largest economic stimulus package to revive the global economy and fight poverty.
One of the trainees, Jesse Mathies, the assistant director for international trade in Liberia’s ministry of commerce, told The New Times that he expects to take home skills that will help improve his understanding of global trade issues both at continental and sub-regional levels.