Sunday, December 20, 2015

Nairobi WTO talks-a setback for Africa?

By Onyango Oloo, Mazingira Institute

Finally the 10th Ministerial talks on the WTO are finally over.

According to the Nairobi-based  Standard newspaper:

Africa’s big win on agriculture as curtains fall on Nairobi WTO summit  
Kenya and other poor countries left the grueling talks of the World Trade Organisation with major wins on agriculture despite stiff opposition from developed nations, including the United States. When the conference ended late last evening, the delegations had agreed to eliminate production and export subsidies, which have been blamed for distorting market prices by keeping them artificially low. 
In the process, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed — who chaired the conference — got a standing ovation over the major decisions that were reached. “It was very intensive...tough calls had to be made, we did bite the bullet and we have a result,” Ms Mohamed said during the closing ceremony. 
India and Venezuela were, however, disappointed that the ministerial statement issued did not expressly reaffirm the Doha Development Agenda. 
It came as a climax to days of intensive negotiations, which included the last 60 hours until last evening. WTO Director-General Roberto Azedevo told the delegates at the closing ceremony that the outcome of the conference was not the best but good in the prevailing circumstances. Azevedo said. 
 It would turn out that the developed nations, which were demanding for the termination of the Doha programme, were handed a significant defeat in the marathon negotiations where trade ministers from around the world agreed to carry on with the Doha Development Agenda, a position that Kenya was in favour of.
 “We recognise that many members reaffirm the Doha Development Agenda, and the Declarations and Decisions adopted at Doha and at the Ministerial Conferences held since then, and reaffirm their full commitment to conclude the DDA on that basis,” the final ministerial statement reads in part. At least seven major decisions were reached at the stormy conference, including an agreement to remove taxes on electronic goods among 53 major nations and resolution on how much in food stocks different countries should hold in their reserves. 
It was a round of talks like no other on the basis that an alternative outcome could significantly weaken the WTO — the global body that seeks to promote trade through developing rules that member countries are required to play by. Representatives from tens of poor countries were clear on their positions since the conference opened on Tuesday that it was only through the Doha programme that their voices could be heard and concerns relating to poverty addressed.
But, the paper's bigger rival from the same city, the Daily Nation, reported it a bit differently:
The closing remarks did not mention the controversial Doha Development Agenda.
Civil society players took a very different reading of proceedings, saying that the talks had made little head way.

Annexures to the final draft text were not released although the text spoke of differences between various players. 

“Members have different views on how to address the negotiations. Many members want to carry out the work on the basis of the Doha structure, while some want to explore new architectures,” the communique highlighted as it detailed positions of the two opposing sides, as exposed by the developed countries led by the US and European Union and emerging countries fronted by India, Brazil, Indonesia and Turkey.

Poor countries were seeking to put an end to subsidies given to farmers by developed countries, get developed countries to open up their economies to their people to trade more by ending barriers to entry over and above imposition of duties, and also have capability to protect their upcoming industries from flooding of cheap imports from developed nations usually benefitting from government support. It is these issues that are normally referred to as the Doha Development Round talks.

While lobbies said the poor countries walked out with little, the developed nations managed to introduce new issues and avoid committing to the Doha Round that would have tackled issues of agricultural subsidies by developed countries, market access and export competition.

The new issues including government procurement that would see bids for state tenders open to include global players without giving preference or advantage to local players, a move likely to be a great disincentive to the youth, women and vulnerable groups for countries like Kenya, are now up for discussion after they were dropped in Singapore talks in 1996.

The final draft text submitted to the Heads of Delegations late yesterday will allow the new issues to come into effect through a “plurilateral” (multinational) arrangement.

These agreements, similar to the Information Technology Agreement or the Environmental Goods Agreement, made by parties of the WTO, are binding to all members even if they fail to participate in crafting them.

According to analysts, ambiguities in the text will bring in the “new issues” on procurement, investment and competition, rules that were rejected at the Singapore ministerial meeting.

“While we concur that officials should prioritise work where results have not yet been achieved, some wish to identify and discuss other issues for negotiation; others do not,” the text read. It concluded that any decision to launch negotiations multilaterally on such issues would need to be agreed by all members.

This means the Singapore agenda can be introduced through an arrangement between WTO countries that find consensus outside the multilateral level.

“The developed countries have insisted that if developing countries want the Doha agenda to continue, they must agree first for the new issues to be part of the negotiations,” it read.

SEATINI International East Africa’s Yash Tandon said the deal was not legally binding and meant the Doha Round was off.

“They are saying that some members want the Doha reaffirmed and others do not which basically means it is not reaffirmed,” Mr Tandon said.

Right to Food Campaign India activist Biraj Patnaik, said the text addresses Doha as issues and not asset of principles which means that it is no longer legally binding.

Mr Patnaik said previous declarations had explicitly reaffirmed Doha and that Nairobi had buried 14 years of negotiations.

The text was full of annexes that were not available to the media at the time of going to press and we could not establish where the truth lies.

Mr Patnaik said the annexes will not be binding since Doha, under which framework they are established has been thrown out.

Mr Timothy Wise of Tufts University said the deal was drafted without inclusion of the developing countries or Least Developed Countries.

“It is being offered by the chair after consultation with an unrepresentative group of five countries, the US, EU, China, India, and Brazil. No Africans or LDCs were included in the final drafting, and they are now being presented with a take-it-or-leave-it text. They should leave it, not take it,” Mr Wise said.

This prompted Africa civil society groups participating in the talks to issue a terse statement saying Africa should reconsider its position in WTO, saying the process “has nothing for Africa that our governments can offer to our people”.

“Africa is being marginalised on the very soil of Africa. A likely outcome of this non-transparent process would devastate Africa’s economy and policy space. This will create massive unemployment in Africa, especially for youth and women. It will disposses millions people of their livelihoods and become internal refugees in Africa, and easily half a million people potential refugees heading for Europe no matter what the obstacles,” a joint statement by over 31 civil society groups read.

The draft attempted to rope in regional agreements insisting they have to be aligned to the WTO.

“We reaffirm the need to ensure that Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs) remain complementary to, not a substitute for, the multilateral trading system. In this regard, we instruct the Committee on Regional Trade Agreements (CRTA) to discuss the systemic implications of RTAs for the multilateral trading system and their relationship with WTO rules,” the text read.

Critics will see this as an attempt at preserving WTO’s negotiating framework after the watered down Nairobi deal.

The Standard's slant was certainly NOT the view of a  group of NGO activists from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, DRC, Senegal, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ghana. Zambia, Guinea and elsewhere who issued a hard hitting statement likening the WTO process to a Second Scramble for Africa:
  1. The Green Room process excludes Africa. Africa is being marginalised on the very soil of Africa.
  1. A likely outcome of this non-transparent process would devastate Africa’s economy and Policy Space.
  1. This will create massive unemployment in Africa, especially youth and women. It will disposess millions people of their livelihoods and become internal refugees in Africa, and easily half a million people potential refugees heading for Europe no matter what the obstacles.
  1. Africa will work in solidarity with India to protest against an outcome that violates the food sovereignty and livelihoods of our people. Global South will not be divided and conquered.
  1. Africa should walk out of this conference; it has nothing for Africa that our governments can offer to our people.
  1. We denounce any effort by the industrialized countries to blame Africa and the developing countries if this Conference fails. The blame lies squarely with the developed countries who have designed an asymmetrical, unjust system of global trade governance.
  1. We appeal to our solidarity movements in other parts of the world to support the struggles of the people of Africa and Policy Space for our Governments.
This statement was drafted by the following as an urgent intervention in a fast-moving unfolding process from which Africa was excluded. We had to take a stand, and we hope that many more will join us to support this statement.
Signatories:William Madiwa Tanzannia Trade & Economic Justice ForumRebecca Tanui, Building Eastern Africa Community NetworkPhitus Jillo, Kenya Small Scale Farmers ForumJustus Lavi, Kenya Small Scale Farmers ForumNelson Mungala, Kenya Small Scale Farmers ForumYash Tandon, SEATINI International, East AfricaNathan Irumba, SEATINI International, East AfricaJane Nalunga, SEATINI, UgandaCollen Gwiyo, SEATINI, ZimbabweSylvester Bagooro, Third World Network, AfricaBoniface Mabanza, Africa Diaspora Desk, DRC/GermanyLiepollo Lebohang Pheko, Trade Collective, South AfricaRiaz Tayob, Trade Collective, South Africa.Bibi Khan, South African Women in Dialogue-Southern Forums.Crecentia Mofokeng, Building Woodworkers International;Liepollo Lebohang Pheko, Trade Strategy Group, South Africa.Wanjiru Njehiah, Africa Centre for Security Governance and Research; and African Diaspora Desk; Kenya/GermanyGeorge Kabongah, Africa Centre for Security Governance and Research, KenyaEmmanuel Quartey, Federation of Entrepreneurs, GhanaYvonne Takang, AIDIC, CamerounGuy-Marius Sagna, Coalition Nationale Contre les APE, SenegalIsaac Mwaipopo, Centre for trade & Development Policy, ZambiaJohn Mary Odoy, Citizens’ Action Platform, UgandaMideva Edda, Kenya Small Scale Farmers ForumLeonard Wanyama, Society for International Development, KenyaAbdou- Rahime Diallo, Africa Diaspora Desk, Guinea/GermanyMilka Isinta, Pan African Network in Defence of Migrant RightsDavinder Lamba, Mazingira Institute, KenyaZahid Rajan, Awaaz, Kenya
Zarina Patel, Awaaz, Kenya
Demba Dembele, LDC Watch, SenegalDate: Nairobi, 19 December 2015, 14.20

Onyango Oloo
Nairobi, Sunday, December 20, 2015

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Some KOT members Swallow Imperialist Drivel

 By Onyango Oloo, Mazingira Institute

On Friday, December  18, 2015 a hashtag on the Nairobi 10th WTO Ministerial meeting almost went viral:

#India blocks talks

Progressive activists  monitoring the machinations of the US, the EU and her allies in the Kenya capital trying to manipulate the  Third World nations immediately saw it for  what it was:

A naked attempt to divide India from her African allies using crude imperialist propaganda.

Step back  a bit.

How on earth was India apparently "blocking"  the WTO talks?

From the  19th December 19, 2015 Daily Nation in Nairobi we read:

Talks at the World Trade Organisation 10th ministerial conference hit a snag on Friday when delegates failed to agree on agriculture and export subsidies.
The closing ceremony was postponed twice and talks went into the night as negotiators worked out issues around weak texts for public stockholding and special safeguard mechanisms.
Other thorny issues included the lengthy phase-out period for export subsidies by developed countries, longer repayment periods and watering down of the food aid element.
The Indian delegation found itself cast as the villain when talks stretched into the fourth day without a resolution.
Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed dismissed fears that talks had stalled.
She, however, admitted that the text on agriculture was posing a problem. India is largely an agrarian economy.
“At this point I don’t think we can talk about specifics but yes the agriculture negotiations are delicate,” Ms Mohamed told journalists late in the evening.
The world’s largest rice producer found itself in the same spot it had in Bali, where it was accused of scuttling the talks.
The hashtag #IndiaBlocksTalks went viral on Twitter.
India has been defending the developing world through the G33 block and had by Thursday rejected a draft text on agriculture, saying it lacked a clear deadline to cut subsidies in the next five years.
Together with Indonesia and Turkey, India submitted an alternative text with language it said was suitable for developing countries.

Contrast the above with this report from a New Delhi publication:

 India fights ‘unfavourable’ WTO drafts in Nairobi

Amiti Sen

Informal texts ignore special safeguards, add new issues

Nairobi, December 17: 

India was taken by surprise by a draft ministerial declaration and informal text on agriculture, circulated on the penultimate day of the ongoing World Trade Organization (WTO) trade ministers’ meet in Nairobi, which totally ignored its existing demands and concerns. But India is fighting back with its own drafts in the two areas.

New Delhi’s demand for a pact on a special safeguard mechanism to protect farmers against import surges was not respected in the agriculture text circulated by the ministerial facilitator, which additionally linked such safeguards to further lowering of tariffs on farm goods.

The inclusion of new issues pushed by US Trade Representative Michael Froman in the draft ministerial declaration circulated by the Ministerial chair Amina Mohamed has further rattled the country.

India and a number of other developing countries had been insisting that all outstanding issues in the on-going Doha development round, launched in 2001, be addressed before new items are brought in.

“The drafts were a surprise sprung on us. I have gone line by line through both drafts and identified where all we have problems and what the language should be.

“We will submit the drafts for incorporation in the final versions that come up,” said Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

The Minister said that India’s draft on agriculture would insist that the text be faithful to the Hong Kong declaration, which gave countries the authority to have special safeguards.

It would also insist on a delinking from market access as safeguards already available to several developed countries did not have such conditions.

No sooner had the #India blocks tlalks hashtag gone up than there was an "uprising" from Kenyan on Twitter:

Several of my compatriots took the "nationalist" line, uncritically tking for granted the Inidia was holding up a very good thing Africa. Some, given the complex cultural. racial and class dynamics within Kenya (with a siazable percentage of Kenyan citizens of South Asian heritage) afew  went ballistic of a xenophobic rampage.

Since I am a Kenyan on Twitter myself-having had my handle for almost six years, I could not contain myself so I responded to some:

Onyango Oloo @OnyangoOloo

@ItsMutai I am surprised you have swallowed the imperialist lie #IndiaBlocksTalks. India is standing for Africa!

Onyango Oloo @OnyangoOloo

The US & her allies are trying to divide Africa from India with the misleading tweet #IndiaBlocksTalks in Nbi. Pure BS!

To be fair to the general KOT communtiy. I received a lot of support, with many Kenyans, including some of those that I had critiqued, retweeting my tweets and even going further to immediately follow me- a testimony to what a democratic, tolerant, give and take the KOT corner on twittersphere is.

One Kenyan who has been keeping the world updated in Zahid Rajan, a left wing veteran activist and  editor associated with AwaaZ Magazine and the Solidarity Network Kenya who has been maintaining the SEATINI Kenya website as  revolutionary labour of love. If you visit the SEATINI Kenya site, you will find  accurate, balanced  and progressive information on the  10th WTO ministerial i meeting in Kenya:

Sample this  blog post from Third World Network shared on SEATINI Kenya

Civil society representatives present at the WTO Ministerial Conference (MC10) have expressed deep shock and disappointment over a draft text on Agriculture released in the early hours of the morning here on the third day of the Conference.

The text was circulated by the Ministerial Facilitator on Agriculture (Lesotho) together with the Chair of the Committee on Agriculture in Special Session (Ambassador Vangelis Vitalis of New Zealand).

Civil society representatives, present at the Ministerial, expressed deep shock and disappointment over the text released today. The text has yielded nothing on the demands of developing countries, most civil society groups here felt.

Expressing deep disappointment over the text, Timothy Wise, Tufts University, USA, said, "The draft text on agriculture is a serious disappointment. It offers no progress on key deliverables demanded by developing countries - public stockholding and special safeguard for import surges - fails to even mention new disciplines on domestic subsidies, and in its one deliverable on export competition, the small progress on export subsidies is diluted by weak language on export credits and food aid, the two main instruments used by the US government to promote its exports. This text utterly fails to advance the development agenda."

Deborah James, on behalf of Our World is Not for Sale (OWINFS), a global network of NGOs and social movements (, said "the agriculture text shows that all civil society concerns voiced over the years and specific concerns expressed by developing countries in the lead up to this Ministerial have been ignored".

Yash Tandon, President, SEATINI, Uganda, said "the draft text of Agriculture is certainly not one of the desirable 'deliverables' from MC10".

The section on public stockholding has nothing on the permanent solution except to say, "negotiations ... shall continue to be pursued as a priority in the Committee on Agriculture in Special Session, in dedicated sessions and in an accelerated time-frame".

Those have been continuing for two years now in Special Sessions of the Committee on Agriculture, but any discussion on the two proposals submitted by the G-33 have been blocked by the developed countries.

Today's draft text simply reaffirms "the commitment of WTO Members to agree and adopt a permanent solution on the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes by the 11th Ministerial Conference" and confirms that the "interim mechanism as set out in the Bali Ministerial Decision on Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes, and the General Council Decision of 28 November 2014, shall remain in force until a permanent solution on the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes is agreed and adopted".

There is nothing for developing countries on special agricultural safeguards either. The draft text simply says: "work on a Special Safeguard Mechanism for developing Members shall be pursued taking account of proposals by Members and in the broader context of agricultural market access".

The Text stands stoic in refusing to grant any immediate safeguard mechanism to developing countries against import surges, which has been a longstanding demand of developing countries.

The G-33 had in fact watered down its proposals before the Ministerial, and had proposed the SSG which is already used by 39 Members mainly consisting of developed countries, but with special and differential treatment, especially in the form of using the last 3 years' average prices instead of 1986-88 prices. But even that has not been conceded in this text.

Moreover, by linking the safeguard instrument specifically to market access talks, the text refuses to recognize the developing country argument that, even in the absence of progress on market access, such an SSG is justified because of the high trade-distorting subsidies provided by the developed countries to their farming sectors.

"It is clear from the new text on agriculture that developing countries are getting nowhere in these negotiations. In particular, there is no forward movement on a permanent solution for food security proposal for public stockholding even after two years of negotiations since the Bali Ministerial. The special safeguard for agriculture has also not seen any progress even after several step-down in G-33 proposals. The developing countries should reject this proposal in no uncertain terms," said Biraj Patnaik, from the Right to Food Campaign India.


Export competition is claimed as the pillar that has something to offer comprising export subsidies, export finance, State Trading Enterprises and food aid.

Export competition discussions have been going on for some time and after the Hong Kong Ministerial there was an agreement to eliminate export subsidies by 2013.

Since then 2020 has been discussed as the target year for elimination of export subsidies and 2023 being the year for developing exporting countries. The current text proposes the elimination of export subsidies of developed countries by 2020 and those of developing countries by 2023.

While it is important to get this commitment, the declining share of export subsidies makes this far from the "big deliverable" the developed countries have made it out to be.

The other components of export competition have been more complex and problematic with the US wielding substantial influence over the talks. Export credit discussions in particular have already witnessed huge blocks by the US.

Timothy Wise argues, "It is inexcusable that the US government is using the current negotiations to legitimize its current levels of export credits, which are large and extremely trade-distorting. Over the last six years they have amounted to several billion dollars, with $1.25 billion going to African countries. This is equivalent to an export subsidy of $100 million, a large distortion that favours US exports over African domestic products and over the exports of other countries."

There are several concessions to the US in the text. For example, the current draft text allows the US to give credit for 18 months instead of the 6 months that was allowed in the Rev.4 text.

A civil society expert also argued that there was a carve-out based on special and differential treatment (SDT) for developing countries for export subsidies related to marketing and transport in Article 9.4 in the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA).

But according to the text released today, this carve-out will be terminated in 2028 or 2030, which reflects again a pushback on SDT in this Ministerial.

Sophia Murphy of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), said: "The draft agriculture text puts the US in its favourite position: win-win. There is no reform in the draft proposed language on export credits. By allowing an exception to time limits for not just the poorest countries but also any net food importing developing country (which includes Egypt and Kenya) the loophole covers all major recipients of export credits. WTO members have no interest in making concessions for what is already common practice. The proposed text gives the US what it wants from the EU on export subsidies, which the US hardly uses and which it has long wanted to eliminate. And it has made no commitment to reform its own export support, which remains all but untouched in the draft text now before the governments."

The civil society here has expressed deep concerns on the Food Aid segment, where the text remains weak. This is one area where developing countries and civil society in general had wanted binding disciplines as residual food aid is creating distortions in domestic food markets across the world undercutting farmers' prices and incomes.

The current text only has best endeavour provisions, still allows monetization and is weak on local procurement.

Sophia Murphy, from IATP, said: "The draft text on food aid is a disgrace. It's a big step back from the reforms included in the draft WTO texts seven years ago (Rev.4) and is less than most of the US development community are asking for. In a letter sent to USTR Froman last week ( ), NGOs called on the US to end the monetization of food aid, in recognition of both its trade-distorting effects and because it undermines markets for the rural economies the aid is intended to support. The US position demonstrates how little the government wants to see a successful outcome to the Ministerial."

Prerna Bomzan, speaking on behalf of LDC Watch, a civil society organization that works for 53 LDCs, said: "The Chair's text on food aid is very weak and even regressive since it does not contain a 'safe box' i.e. distinction between emergency and non-emergency food aid, as mandated in the 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration. It legalises dumping by labelling food exports as food aid. This is a key concern for us since Sub- Saharan Africa, home to the majority 34 LDCs, accounts for around 60-65% of food aid flows and hence, it is imperative that we anchor stronger disciplines on food aid in Nairobi".

"African farmers will be undermined if the draft agriculture text stands during the WTO negotiations today. If the final text does not distinguish emergency aid from food aid more broadly it will create an enabling environment for dumping cheap food into local markets, undermining local farmers," said Marie Clarke, Executive Director of ActionAid USA.

The Agriculture text will be discussed with Members today, reports said. The aim of the Text "is to assist Ministers to find common ground, and in keeping with this aim they should be considered to expire at the end of the Tenth Ministerial Conference". In its current form, it is unlikely to be able to do that.