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Kenya eyes progress in WTO talks

NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 18 – The full involvement of the United States of America in the World Trade Organisation negotiations might tip the balance in favour of developing countries involved in the Doha Development Agenda and lead to a faster conclusion of the talks.

External Trade Secretary at the Trade Ministry Simon Chacha said the US has appointed negotiators to represent it in the Doha Round, a move that is expected to expedite the process especially in regard to the contentious issues.

“The focus now is to be able to progress the negotiations from where we have reached. We now have the US which is fully on board and we will now be able to move forward,” he explained.

The electioneering activities that culminated in the election of President Barack Obama in 2008 meant that America, which is a key player, was not fully committed in the talks that aim to bridge the economic disparity between developing and developed countries.

The negotiations have dragged on for nearly nine years due to what trade analysts say is a desire by the developing nations to accrue just as many benefits as their Western world counterparts.

Although countries involved acknowledge that they have been able to reach consensus on some key areas, there are some issues that still remain contentious and which have contributed towards the stagnation of the negotiations. Key among them is the classification of emerging countries such as Brazil, India and China (and which together with Russia are known as BRICS) as developing countries which affects issues such as market access.

Despite this categorisation under the multilateral trading rules, the BRICS which have been experiencing a strong growth in their economies in the last few years are required by the developed countries to open up their market more, a move that is seen by many as an application of double standards.

In the case of Africa however, the inability of these countries to add value to their products, capitalise on the market access and their supply-side constraints among other key challenges, play a critical role in their meager contribution to international trade.

Sub-Saharan African countries account for only two percent of international trade although there have been efforts to try and increase this share.

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Towards this end, Mr Chacha who spoke during a national consultative forum on the WTO said Kenya is currently preparing a common position that will help her negotiators to articulate the country’s concerns when the talks re-opens in Geneva in September.

Taking such a position would enable the country to increase its exports and create more opportunities for wealth creation and poverty reduction, he remarked.

In this exercise however, the government is expected to get a leg-up from trade experts who will in the next few weeks be deliberating on ways that the sticky issues can be ironed out and ensure that Kenya- as part of the larger grouping of developing countries- is able to conclude an agreeable and beneficial outcome.

“This round was meant to be a development round and there is no reason to just push it so that we come up with an agreement that ministers are called to sign and which when we come back home is going to give us a lot of challenges in implementation,” argued WTO Chair at the Univerisity of Nairobi Prof Jasper Okelo.

According to him, it is better to take as much time as is needed to negotiate a beneficial deal rather than hastily concluding an agreement such as the Uruguay Round which saw developing countries involved make commitments that they had trouble living up to.

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