African leaders say WTO process still best route for trade deal

African leaders said negotiating a package of trade deals through the World Trade Organization remains one of their best chances of securing preferential access for their farming goods and competing against subsidized developed nations.

Developing countries stand to benefit the most from negotiations on agriculture and the so-called Doha round, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Tuesday at the opening ceremony of the WTO’s meeting in Nairobi, the capital. The Doha talks, called that because they happened in the Qatari capital 15 years ago, aimed to add about $360 billion to global trade by spurring cross-border commerce.

“The Doha round of negotiations and agriculture provide us with the best opportunity to address the distortions and to align global trade with our development goals,” Kenyatta said. “Africa’s farmers simply cannot compete against heavily subsidized farmers in developed countries.”

Negotiations have been stuck since 2009 because of differences between wealthy and poor nations, chiefly over subsidized farming in the developed world. Developing nations are seeking assurance to conclude initiatives from the Doha Development Agenda and assurances talks will continue beyond this week’s meeting. Developed nations such as Australia, Japan and the U.S., along with the European Union, oppose guarantees on the course of future talks.

“We remain active participants in the Doha development round,” Ugandan Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda said. “We are optimistic that the development promise of the round can be delivered during this ministerial conference.”

Liberia is expected to be officially accepted into the 162- member WTO on Wednesday.

“We are optimistic that this council meeting is poised to impact global trade,” Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said. “To ensure that the least developed nations of the world are given a better deal by removal of barriers.”

 – Bloomberg