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19 Feb 2004, Mombasa, Kenya
AFRICAN UNION DEFIES US & EU TRADE CONDITIONS

African trade ministers attending a two-day talks beginning here Wednesday defied the United States and the European Union(EU) and described their trade conditions as unacceptable.

The meeting, which brings together more than 18 African trade ministers, United States Trade Representative Bob Zoellick and EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, is aimed at reviving the collapsed World Trade Organizations(WTO) Doha talks. Africa is a key player in determining the direction and agenda of trade under the multilateral system.

Gaps between Europe, the United States and Africa contributed to last year's collapse of WTO negotiations' Doha round to promote free trade which is seen as vital to the world economy.

WTO Director General Supachai Panitchpakdi was also present at the meeting in Mombasa, Kenya's coastal city and the biggest port in East Africa.

Speaking at a press conference after Wednesday's meeting, Kenyan Trade and Industry Minister Mukhisa Kituyi said African's concerns on multilateral trade based on rules were the best to manage commerce in the world.

He said there were key issues of concern to Africa that if addressed will assist in developing the continent.

"Trade on its own will never bring development to Africa with the existing restrictions employed by the US, the EU and other trading blocks," Kituyi said.

He said the specifics of Africa development agenda, which has remained unresolved since the Uruguay 1994 trade meeting must be exhaustively discussed at the consultative meeting.

The minister told journalists that the meeting was not a negotiating forum for trade but a consultative forum for African governments to forge a united front ahead of the WTO talks in Hong Kong next year.

Lesotho Trade Minister Mpho Malie accused the developed world of double standards where they demanded Africa to open up its market while the US and EU practiced protectionism.

Malie said the US and the EU must understand that it cannot demand that African countries open up their markets when they continued to protect their own.

He said African continent continued to suffer due to pressure from the developed world to open up its market while the developed countries closed there own.

Speaking on the occasion, WTO Director General Supachai Panitchpakdi said the meeting was the first turn around in history of WTO following the fallout in Cancun talks last September.

He expressed optimism that the issues that led to the collapse of the Cancun will be resolved.

"This is the first time in history we are seeing the African Union engaging in meaningful talks with key players around the world like the European Union, America and other trading blocks," he said.

Supachai noted that there were several meetings organized by various key players to resolve the contentious issues of subsidies which led to the collapse of the Cancun talks.

"I hope we shall break the stalemate," he said.

Members of 20-civil society called on African ministers attending the conference to maintain own unity and solidarity forged in Cancun and seek ways to strengthen alliances within and between the Special Products(SP) alliance, the G90 and G20, since these alliances offered a potential counter-weight to US and EU dominance.

In a statement, members of a civil society called on African ministers attending the conference to maintain own unity and solidarity forged in Cancun and seek ways to strengthen alliances within and between the Special Products(SP) alliance, the G90 andG20, since these alliances offered a potential counter-weight to US and EU dominance.

Gichinga Ndirangu of the society asked African ministers to demand an early end date set for the elimination of all forms of export subsidies as well as real substantial reduction of domestic support measures, measures that enable African countries to protect their local production.

Meanwhile, US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said he has emerged from informal talks encouraged about the future of the current stalled round of WTO negotiations.

"Little by little we make progress," he said,"It's very important that 2004 not be a lost year for the WTO."

The meeting is being attended by African trade ministers from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Botswana, Benin, Lesotho and among others.

END