African Union ministers of trade and agriculture gathered in early December 2012 at a joint conference in Addis Ababa to discuss their growing and increasingly overlapping work agendas. Agriculture remains the key source of income and employment for most Africans, while efforts intensify across the continent to liberalise intra-regional trade. In this blog, the authors summarise the main resolutions from the summit, while the final outcomes document is being drafted. Ministers agreed to accelerate implementation of the Plan of Action for Boosting Intra-Africa Trade in both agricultural commodities and processed food products. This is hoped to lead to an early deal to liberalise key regional food staples markets, as part of the continental free trade area. They also identified the national and regional compacts and investment plans of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) as the main instruments to define and operationalise trade-agriculture collaboration, while strengthening the capacity of relevant institutions and producers to effectively participate in these innovative practices and monitor their impact at country level. While they acknowledged the need to work at national, regional and continental levels to remove trade barriers in agricultural commodities, they emphasised that without immediate follow-up, food security will remain uncertain.
Health equity in economic and trade policies
At the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) diplomatic conference on 9-10 August in Swakopmund, Namibia, the protocol on the Protection of Traditional Knowledge and Expressions of Folklore was signed by African nine states. ARIPO currently has 17 member states. Nine states signed the protocol and the remaining eight states will have to accede to the protocol. Some states have already initiated the process for the ratification and accession, according to a spokesperson for ARIPO, Emmanuel Sackey. The protocol will enter into force after six contracting states have ratified or acceded to it, Sackey said. The organisation is expected to take initiatives on traditional knowledge and link its initiatives with those undertaken by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) through its active involvement in the WIPO activities in this field. The protocol is meant to ‘protect creations derived from the exploitation of traditional knowledge in ARIPO member states against misappropriation and illicit use through bio-piracy,’ according to ARIPO. The protocol should also prevent the ‘grant of patents in respect of inventions based on pirated traditional knowledge (…) and to promote wider commercial use and recognition of that knowledge by the holders, while ensuring that collective custodianship and ownership are not undermined by the introduction of new regimes of private intellectual property rights.’ The United Nations has warned against the application of western legal and economic principles to collectively owned knowledge in traditional communities.
Inter-African trade, which is high on the agenda at the upcoming African Union (AU) summit, will not remain the AU’s only priority in 2012. According to this report in Africa Review, the ambitious list of priorities consists of efforts to boost the continent’s global role, and plans to review the AU’s international partnerships in order to ensure they bring greater benefits to Africa. Peace and security continue to be a major concern, and AU intends to push its member states to strengthen democracy and good governance, an area closely linked to security concerns. The AU will take steps to establish food reserves and to secure access to markets and competitive prices for farmers. A free trade zone across the continent is envisaged to boost commerce between countries. At present, less than 15% of African trade stays on the continent - the rest is sold abroad.
The African Union (AU) has announced it will proceed with the establishment of a Pan-African Intellectual Property Office (PAIPO), despite misgivings from civil society and development economists about the potential impact on local economies. There is currently no intellectual property (IP) office for Africa. The AU has requested a meeting of all stakeholders dealing with intellectual property before the May 2013 AU Summit. According to the author of this article, public information is difficult to obtain from the African Union, and nothing further is known at this time. He argues that signing up to the global IP system, in which nearly all of the IP rights are owned by non-African entities, clashes with the development objectives of the African Union, which are to promote African sovereignty and equitable development.
At Workers University in Cairo, a mid-May gathering of 100 trade union leaders and intellectuals from across Africa adopted surprisingly common radical language, exhibiting a pent-up desire to jointly fight global neoliberalism. The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (Codesria) has been an extraordinary network for 5000 members who are the continent's core of progressive academics. The article provides a detailed recount and discussion of the various arguments and perspectives presented.
African countries have called for greater voice in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), including not only an increase in formal voting power and representation at its decision-making bodies but also in the diversity of its staff members, to better represent their interests at the institution. In statements during the IMF’s Annual Meetings, African finance ministers and central bank governors have reiterated their calls for at least a tripling of basic votes as an outcome of the current quota and voice reform process to protect the voting shares of low-income countries. They also called for a meaningful and expeditious increase in their representation at the Executive Board, including an amendment to the Fund’s Articles of Agreement to enable Executive Directors representing large constituencies to appoint more than one Alternate Executive Directors.
Much has been written about Africa’s so-called ‘resource curse’, whereby natural resources disrupt an economy and create incentives for wide-scale corruption and even conflict. The effects of the resource curse need not, however, be viewed as inevitable, the author of this article argues. Political choice is key. Botswana has used its mineral wealth to develop into a stable, middle-income country. More recent producers such as Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone appear to be making good governance decisions so far. Emerging markets, especially China, continue to ramp up demand for the continent’s commodities, offering a once in a millennium opportunity for African governments to lift millions of people out of poverty. African leaders and the international community, big business and civil society must assume responsibility, the author argues. The most practical and credible form of becoming ‘transparent’, she says, is the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which requires governments to explain clearly and openly the revenues flowing from its extractive sector so that any party can see how much the country in question receives from oil, gas and mining companies. So far, ten African governments have been judged compliant.
Africa’s Pulse provides an analysis of issues shaping Africa’s economic future. According to the report, global economic activity has slowed significantly in recent months, weighed down by policy uncertainty. Despite difficult global conditions, growth in Sub-Saharan Africa has remained largely on track. However, the region’s economic prospects are vulnerable to heightened downside risks. Because Africa’s growth recovery since 2000 - the longest expansion since independence - was based on improved macroeconomic policies and political stability, the prospects of sustained growth are strong. Discoveries of minerals are bringing the prospect of large revenues for newly resource-rich countries. The challenges for these countries will be to strengthen mineral governance and also to ensure that the new revenues are invested in better health, education and jobs for their people, according to the report.
According to this paper from the World Bank, an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) is unlikely to offer much in terms of improved access to European Union services markets, especially for temporary movement of unskilled workers, a key issue for African countries. The main impacts of a services EPA for African countries would come from locking in openness to trade, providing precedents for regulation in key sectors, cooperation on competition policy and support for regional integration. According to the Bank, many of these goals could be pursued through a more cooperative approach with interested African countries, without necessarily negotiating and signing a broad EPA agreement.
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), a Pan African platform comprising civil society networks and farmer organisations working towards food sovereignty, has submitted this Open Letter to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr. Wendy White from Iowa State University and the Human Institutional Review Board of Iowa State University expressing fierce opposition to the human feeding trials taking place at Iowa State University involving genetically modified (GM) bananas. The Letter is supported by more than 120 organizations from around the world. The letter states:"This so-called ‘Super-banana’, has been genetically modified to contain extra beta-carotene, a nutrient the human body uses to produce vitamin A. Unlike current GM crops in commercial production where agronomic traits have been altered, scientists have spliced genes into the GM banana to produce substances for humans to digest (extra beta carotene). The GM banana is a whole different ballgame, raising serious concerns about the risks to African communities who would be expected to consume it. Production of vitamin A in the body is complex and not fully understood. This raises important questions including inter alia, whether high levels of beta- carotene or vitamin A may carry risks and what the nature of those risks might be. While a risk assessment is a pre-requisite for GM foods under many national jurisdictions, the need for specific and additional food safety assessment for nutritionally enhanced GM crops such as the GM banana is acknowledged by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, as genetic modifications result in a composition that may be significantly different from their conventional counterparts".