WASHINGTON – Agricultural subsidies provided to farmers in developed countries create an unfair advantage,Botswana's Minister of Trade and Industry Daniel Moroka said Tuesday at the seventh African Growth and Opportunity Act forum held at the U.S. State Department.
“We should insist on a level playing field,” the minister said,”especially in agriculture.”
He added that developed countries are stalling the Doha Round of talks over this issue.
The Doha Development Round,negotiations conducted by the World Trade Organization with the objective of lowering international trade barriers,began in Doha,Qatar,in 2001 and is ongoing.
There have been calls for reductions in agricultural subsidies for the past several years. Ambassador Crawford Falconer,who chairs the Doha Round agriculture negotiations,released his latest revised draft modalities July 10. The modalities contain formulas for cutting agricultural tariffs and subsidies,but have yet to be agreed upon.
Falconer is New Zealand's ambassador to the World Trade Organization.
Moroka co-chaired the opening plenary session of the forum with U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab. It is the first time that Botswana has chaired the forum.
Moroka spoke of the tendency for African markets to export raw materials with little value and encouraged them to move away from dependence on single commodities.
Schwab also touched on the issue of diversification. “We haven't seen as much change as we would like,” she said,adding that African leaders should think about how to gain access to growing markets such as India.
It is ironic,Moroka said,that African countries close their markets to each other while seeking to open them to countries overseas.
“AGOA-related exports have grown considerably,” the minister said.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice opened the proceedings,saying that she is optimistic about Africa's future. “Africa and its people are not reduced to the sum of their challenges,” she said.
The minister listed several issues that needed to be considered,such as monetary and employment policies,labor productivity,education and rising fuel and food prices. He said African leaders have looked at the challenges the continent is facing and now seek assistance from the U.S.
After the opening speeches,parts of the conference were closed to reporters. The forum continues Wednesday with discussions about the private sector.