Zimbabwe and other African countries have pledged to resist a move by developed countries including the US, the European Union (EU) and Australia, to add a “standstill” clause in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) charter that would stifle trade opportunities for developing nations.
The plot to insert the clause was unveiled at the Eighth Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Geneva, Switzerland, during the weekend.
The clause was enunciated in a joint ministerial Press statement on Thursday last week.
The clause could block export of goods and services from developing countries in particular Africa which do not meet environmental, sanitation, health and other standards needed to export goods and services to Western countries.
Developing countries — members of the African Trade Network (ATN) — described the move as a shameful act of double standards.
“We strongly object to the moves by the developed countries such as USA, EU, Australia, among others, in their joint ministerial Press statement issued on December 15 2011 titled ‘Pledge Against Protectionism’ that basically is calling for a standstill clause in the World Trade Organisation,” read the ATN statement.
“Protectionism through standards or use of environmental reasons to block goods and services from developing countries is unacceptable,” they said.
The ATN said African countries needed policy space for industrialisation and development purposes to protect agriculture and local industries through the use of tariffs among other measures.
They argued it was unfair that developed countries once used protectionism to protect their own trade with other countries, but were now denying Africa and other developing nations the same privilege to trade without stringent laws.
“The developed countries used the same policy instruments at their nascent stages of development and they are now denying developed countries the usage of the same tools.
The greatest protectionists today are still the developed countries, hence it is hypocritical for them to talk against protectionism,” ATN said.
The ATN said anti-protectionism would further restrict the ability of African countries to use trade policy as an important and legitimate tool for industrialisation and increased food production.