Africa, Caribbean countries to reject WTO deal

Cotton, banana and sugar growers in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific regions threatened Friday to reject any global trade deal that eliminates safeguards for their farmers or their preferential access to European markets. The Group of 77 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, many of whose populations are subsistence farmers, was emphatic in its refusal to sign onto any World Trade Organization deal at talks in Hong Kong that would imperil protections for commodity growers.

"We will not be a party to any consensus that that does not recognize our right to grow bananas," said Charles Savarin, trade minister of Dominica. "We must preserve our traditional access to the EU markets."

"If there is no solution in preferences there will be no deal in Hong Kong," said Arvin Boolell, minister of agroindustry and fisheries for the African island state of Mauritius.

The EU's system of tariffs and quotas favors Caribbean and African banana producers over large-scale growers in Latin America, who claim the system is unfair. The WTO recent ruled that the preferential treatment violates world trade rules.

Earlier this week, the Central American country of Honduras threatened to reject any WTO deal that preserved the preferences. But Caribbean and African countries say ending the preferences could destroy their domestic banana industries, which are mostly small-scale family farms. Savarin has described the WTO ruling as "disastrous" for his country's struggling economy.

Since the 149-nation WTO operates by consensus, the controversy could undermine any progress made toward a world trade treaty since talks began here on Tuesday.

The threat comes with WTO negotiations at an impasse over how deeply wealthy nations should cut their tariffs on agricultural goods and farm subsidies, which poor nations say block their farm exports. Meanwhile, cotton growing nations in Africa and other developing regions are demanding an end to U.S. government support for American cotton farmers, saying it prevents their own subsistence growers, as well as financial aid to compensate for their losses.

They appealed on behalf of the 15 million African families they say depend on cotton growing for survival. "I have to say that very little progress has been made," said Fatiou Akpolgan, minister of agriculture for the tiny African nation of Benin, reports the AP. I.L.

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